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(Eatbolic Cbnrcbmen 
in Science 



JAMES J. WALSH, K.St.G., M.D., Ph.D., Litt.D. 

Dean and Professor of Medicine and of Nervous Diseases 
at Fordham University School of Medicine; Professor 
of Physiological Psychology in the Cathedral Col- 
lege, New York; Member of A.M. A., N. Y. 
State Med. Soc, A.A.A.S., Life Mem. 
of N. Y. Historical Society. 



American Ctckstasttcal Eetoieto 



Copyright, iqo6, 1910 

American Ecclesiastical IReview 
Gbe 2)olpbin ipress 



Digitized by the Internet Archive 

in 2010 with funding from 

Boston Library Consortium Member Libraries 


THE following sketches of the lives of clergymen 
who were great scientists have appeared at various 
times during the past five years in Catholic magazines. 
They were written because the materials for them had 
gradually accumulated during the preparation of vari- 
ous courses of lectures, and it seemed advisable to put 
them in order in such a way that they might be helpful 
to others working along similar lines. They all range 
themselves naturally around the central idea that the 
submission of the human reason to Christian belief, and 
of the mind and heart to the authority of the Church, 
is quite compatible with original thinking of the highest 
order, and with that absolute freedom of investigation 
into physical science, which has only too often been 
said to be quite impossible to churchmen. For this 
reason friends have suggested that they should be 
published together in a form in which they would be 
more easy of consultation than when scattered in dif- 
ferent periodicals. It was urged, too, that they would 
thus also be more effective for the cause which they 
uphold. This friendly suggestion has been yielded to, 
whether justifiably or not the reader must decide for 
himself. There is so great a flood of books, good, bad, 
and indifferent, ascribing their existence to the advice of 
well-meaning friends, that we poor authors are evi- 
dently not in a position to judge for ourselves of the 
merit of our works or of the possible interest they 
may arouse. 



I have to thank the editors of the American Catholic 
Quarterly Review, of the Ave Maria, and of The 
Ecclesiastical Review and The Dolphin, for their kind 
permission to republish the articles which appeared 
originally in their pages. All of them, though sub- 
stantially remaining the same, have been revised, modi- 
fied in a number of particulars, and added to very 
considerably in most cases. 

The call for a second edition — the third thousand — 
of this little book is gratifying. Its sale encouraged 
the preparation of a Second Series of Catholic 
Churchmen in Science, and now the continued de- 
mand suggests a Third Series, which will be issued 
during the year. Some minor corrections have been 
made in this edition, but the book is substantially the 

"& sortoto'fii croton of aDmito.' 




Preface ix 

I. The Supposed Opposition of Science and 

Religion 3 

II. Copernicus and His Times 15 

III. Basil Valentine: Founder of Modern 

Chemistry 45 

IV. Linacre: Scholar, Physician, Priest 79 

V. Father Kircher, S.J. : Scientist, 

Orientalist, and Collector 11 1 

VI. Bishop Stensen: Anatomist and Father 

of Geology 137 

VII. Abbe Hauy: Father of Crystallog- 
raphy 169 

VIII. Abbot Mendel: A New Outlook in 

Heredity 195 









A COMMON impression prevails that there 
is serious, if not invincible, opposition be- 
tween science and religion. This persuasion has 
been minimized to a great degree in recent years, 
and yet sufficient of it remains to make a great 
many people think that, if there is not entire in- 
compatibility between science and religion, there 
is at least such a diversity of purposes and aims 
in these two great realms of human thought that 
those who cultivate one field are not able to ap- 
preciate the labors of those who occupy them- 
selves in the other. Indeed, it is usually accepted 
as a truth that to follow science with assiduity is 
practically sure to lead to unorthodoxy in re- 
ligion. This is supposed to be especially true if 
the acquisition of scientific knowledge is pur- 
sued along lines that involve original research 
and new investigation. Somehow, it is thought 
that any one who has a mind free enough from 
the influence of prejudice and tradition to be- 
come an original thinker or investigator, is in- 
evitably prone to abandon the old orthodox lines 
of thought in respect to religion. 

Like a good many other convictions and per- 
suasions that exist more or less as common- 




places in the subconscious intellects of a great 
many people, this is not true. Our American 
humorist said that it is not so much the ignor- 
ance of mankind that makes him ridiculous as 
the knowing so many things " that ain't so." 
The supposed opposition between science and re- 
ligion is precisely an apposite type of one of the 
things " that ain't so." It is so firmly fixed as 
a rule, however, that many people have accepted 
it without being quite conscious of the fact that 
it exists as one of the elements influencing many 
of their judgments — a very important factor in 
their apperception. 

Now, it so happens that a number of prom- 
inent original investigators in modern science 
__were not only thoroughly orthodox in their re- 
ligious beliefs, but were even faithful clergymen 
and guiding spirits for others in the path of 
Christianity. The names of those who are in- 
cluded in the present volume is the best proof of 
this. The series of sketches was written at vari- 
ous times, and yet there was a central thought 
guiding the selection of the various scientific 
workers. Most of them lived at about the time 
when, according to an unfortunate tradition that 
has been very generally accepted, the Church 
dominated human thinking so tyrannously as 
practically to preclude all notion of original in- 
vestigation in any line of thought, but especially 
in matters relating to physical science. Most of 
the men whose lives are sketched lived during 
the fifteenth, sixteenth, and first half of the seven. 


teenth centuries. All of them were Catholic 
clergymen of high standing, and none of them 
suffered anything like persecution for his opin- 
ions; all remained faithful adherents of the 
Church through long lives. 

It is hoped that this volume, without being in 
any sense controversial, may tend to throw light 
on many points that have been the subject of 
controversy; and by showing how absolutely 
free these great clergymen-scientists were to 
pursue their investigations in science, it may 
serve to demonstrate how utterly unfounded is 
the prejudice that would declare that the eccle- 
siastical authorities of these particular centuries 
were united in their opposition to scientific ad- 

There is no doubt that at times men have been 
the subject of persecution because of scientific 
opinions. In all of these cases, without excep- 
tion, however — and this is particularly true of 
such men as Galileo, Giordano Bruno, and Mich- 
ael Servetus — a little investigation of the personal 
character of the individuals involved in these 
persecutions will show the victims to have been 
of that especially irritating class of individuals 
who so constantly awaken opposition to whatever 
opinions they may hold by upholding them over- 
strenuously and inopportunely. They were the 
kind of men who could say nothing without, to 
some extent at least, arousing the resentment of 
those around them who still clung to older ideas. 
We all know this class of individual very well. 


In these gentler modern times we may even be- 
wail the fact that there is no such expeditious 
method of disposing of him as in the olden time. 
This is not a defence of what was done in their 
regard, but is a word of explanation that shows 
how human were the motives at work and how 
unecclesiastical the procedures, even though 
church institutions, Protestant and Catholic alike, 
were used by the offended parties to rid them of 
obnoxious argumentators. 

In this matter it must not be forgotten that 
persecution has been the very common associate 
of noteworthy advances in science, quite apart 
from any question of the relations between 
science and religion. There has scarcely been a 
single important advance in the history of ap- 
plied science especially, that has not brought 
down upon the devoted head of the discoverer, 
for a time at least, the ill-will of his own gener- 
ation. Take the case of medicine, for instance. 
Vesalius was persecuted, but not by the ecclesias- 
tical authorities. The bitter opposition to him 
and to his work came from his colleagues in 
medicine, who thought that he was departing 
from the teaching of Galen, and considered that 
a cardinal medical heresy not to be forgiven. 
Harvey, the famous discoverer of the circulation 
of the blood, lost much of his lucrative medical 
practice after the publication of his discovery, 
because his medical contemporaries thought the 
notion of the heart pumping blood through the 
arteries to be so foolish that they refused to 


admit that it could come from a man of common 
sense, much less from a scientific physician. Nor 
need it be thought that this spirit of opposition 
to novelty existed only in the sixteenth and 
seventeenth centuries. Almost in our own time 
Semmelweis, who first taught the necessity for 
extreme cleanliness in obstetrical work, met with 
so much opposition in the introduction of the 
precautions he considerd necessary that he was 
finally driven insane. His methods reduced the 
mortality in the great lying-in hospitals of 
Europe from nearly ten per cent for such cases 
down to less than one per cent, thus saving many 
thousands of lives every year. 

Despite this very natural tendency to decry 
the value of new discoveries in science and the 
opposition they aroused, it will be found that 
the lives of these clergymen scientists show us 
that they met with much more sympathy in their 
work than was usually accorded to original in- 
vestigators in science in other paths in life. This 
is so different from the ordinary impression in 
the matter that it seems worth while calling it to 
particular attention. While we have selected 
lives of certain of the great leaders in science, we 
would not wish it to be understood that these 
are the only ones among the clergymen of the 
last four centuries who deserve an honorable 
place high up in the roll of successful scientific 
investigators. Only those are taken who illus- 
trate activity in sciences that are supposed to 
have been especially forbidden to clergymen. It 


has been said over and over again, for instance, 
that there was distinct ecclesiastical opposition to 
the study of chemistry. Indeed, many writers 
have not hesitated to say that there was a bull, or 
at least a decree, issued by one or more of the 
popes forbidding the study of chemistry. This 
is not only not true, but the very pope who is said 
to have issued the decree, John XXII, was him- 
self an ardent student of the medical sciences. 
We still possess several books from him on these 
subjects, and his decree was meant only to sup- 
press pseudo-science, which, as always, was ex- 
ploiting the people for its own ends. The fact 
that a century later the foundation of modern 
chemical pharmacology was laid by a Benedictine 
monk, Basil Valentine, shows how unfounded is 
the idea that the papal decree actually hampered 
in any way the development of chemical inves- 
tigation or the advance of chemical science. 

Owing to the Galileo controversy, astronomy 
is ordinarily supposed to have been another of 
the sciences to which it was extremely indiscreet 
at least, not to say dangerous, for a clergyman 
to devote himself. The great founder of mod- 
ern astronomy, however, Copernicus, was not 
only a clergyman, but one indeed so faithful and 
ardent that it is said to have been owing to his 
efforts that the diocese in which he lived did not 
go over to Lutheranism during his lifetime, as 
did most of the other dioceses in that part of 
Germany. The fact that Copernicus's book was 
involved in the Galileo trial has rendered his 


position still further misunderstood, but the mat- 
ter is fully cleared up in the subsequent sketch of 
his life. As a matter of fact, it is in astronomy 
particularly that clergymen have always been in 
the forefront of advance ; and it must not be for- 
gotten that it was the Catholic Church that 
secured the scientific data necessary for the cor- 
rection of the Julian Calendar, and that it was a 
pope who proclaimed the advisability of the cor- 
rection to the world. Down to our own day 
there have always been very prominent clergy- 
men astronomers. One of the best known names 
in the history of the astronomy of the nineteenth 
century is that of Father Piazzi, to whom we 
owe the discovery of the first of the asteroids. 
Other well-known names, such as Father Secchi, 
who was the head of the papal observatory at 
Rome, and Father Perry, the English Jesuit, 
might well be mentioned. The papal observa- 
tory at Rome has for centuries been doing some 
of the best work in astronomy accomplished any- 
where, although it has always been limited in its 
means, has had inadequate resources to draw on, 
and has succeeded in accomplishing what it has 
done only because of the generous devotion of 
those attached to it. 

To go back to the Galileo controversy for a 
moment, there seems no better answer to the 
assertion that his trial shows clearly the opposi- 
tion between religion, or at least ecclesiastical 
authorities, and science, than to recall, as we have 
done, in writing the accompanying sketch of the 


life of Father Kircher, S. J., that just after the 
trial Roman ecclesiastics very generally were 
ready to encourage liberally a man who devoted 
himself to all forms of physical science, who 
was an original thinker in many of them, who 
was a great teacher, whose writings did more to 
disseminate knowledge of advances in science 
than those of any man of his time, and whose 
idea of the collection of scientific curiosities into 
a great museum at Rome (which still bears his 
name) was one of the fertile germinal sugges- 
tions in which modern science was to find seeds 
for future growth. 

It is often asserted that geology was one of 
the sciences that was distinctly opposed by 
churchmen ; yet we shall see that the father of 
modern geology, one of the greatest anatomists 
of his time, was not only a convert to Catholicity, 
but became a clergyman about the time he was 
writing the little book that laid the foundation 
of modern geology. We shall see, too, that, far 
from religion and science clashing in him, he 
afterwards was made a bishop, in the hope that 
he should be able to go back to his native land 
and induce others to become members of that 
Church wherein he had found peace and happi- 

In the modern times biology has been sup- 
posed to be the special subject of opposition, or 
at least fear, on the part of ecclesiastical author- 
ities. It is for this reason that the life of Abbot 
Mendel has been introduced. While working in 


his monastery garden in the little town of Briinn 
in Moravia, this Augustinian monk discovered 
certain precious laws of heredity that are consid- 
ered by progressive twentieth-century scientists 
to be the most important contributions to the 
difficult problems relating to inheritance in biol- 
ogy that have been made. 

These constitute the reasons for this little book 
on Catholic clergymen scientists. It is published, 
not with any ulterior motives, but simply to im- 
press certain details of truth in the history of 
science that have been neglected in recent years 
and, by presenting sympathetic lives of great 
clergymen scientists, to show that not only is 
there no essential opposition between science and 
religion, but on the contrary that the quiet peace 
of the cloister and of a religious life have often 
contributed not a little to that precious placidity 
of mind which seems to be so necessary for the 
discovery of great, new scientific truths. 



ALL the vast and most progressive 
systems that human wisdom 
has brought forth as substitutes for 
religion, have never succeeded in in- 
teresting any but the learned, the 
ambitious, or at most the prosperous 
and happy. But the great majority 
of mankind can never come under 
these categories. The great major- 
ity of men are suffering, and suffering 
from moral as well as physical evils. 
Man's first bread is grief, and his first 
want is consolation. Now which of 
these systems has ever consoled an 
afflicted heart, or repeopled a lonely 
one? Which of these teachers has 
ever shown men how to wipe away a 
tear? Christianity alone has from the 
beginning promised to console man 
in the sorrows incidental to life by 
purifying the inclinations of his heart, 
and she alone has kept her promise. — 
Montalembert, Introduction to Life 
of St. Elizabeth. 




THE association of the name of Copernicus 
with that of Galileo has always cast an air 
of unorthodoxy about the great astronomer. 
The condemnation of certain propositions in his 
work on astronomy in which Copernicus first set 
forth the idea of the universe as we know it at 
present, in contradistinction to the old Ptolemaic 
system of astronomy, would seem to emphasize 
this suspicion of unorthodox thinking. He is 
rightly looked upon as one of the great pioneers 
of our modern physical science, and, as it is gen- 
erally supposed that scientific tendencies lead 
away from religion, there are doubtless many 
who look upon Copernicus as naturally one of 
the leaders in this rationalistic movement. It is 
forgotten that scarcely any of the great original 
thinkers have escaped the stigma of having cer- 
tain propositions in some of their books con- 
demned, and that this indeed is only an index of 
the fallibility of the human mind and of the 
need there is for some authoritative teacher. 
The sentences in Copernicus's book requiring 
correction were but few, and were rather matters 
of terminology than of actual perversion of ac- 
cepted teaching. It was as such that their modi- 
fication was suggested. In spite of this, the im- 



pression remains that Copernicus must be con- 
sidered as a rationalizing scientist, the first in a 
long roll of original scientific investigators whose 
work has made the edifice of Christianity totter 
by removing many of the foundation-stones of 
its traditional authority. 

fit is rather surprising, in view of this com- 
mon impression with regard to Copernicus, to 
find him, according to recent biographers, a faith- 
ful clergyman in honor with his ecclesiastical 
superiors, a distinguished physician whose chief 
patients were clerical friends of prominent posi- 
tion and the great noblemen of his day, who not 
only retained all his faith and reverence for the 
p. Church, but seems to have been especially relig- 
ious, a devoted adherent of the Blessed Virgin 
Mother of God, and the author of a series of 
poems in her honor that constitute a distinct con- 
tribution to the literature of his time. 

All this should not be astonishing, however; 
for in the list of the churchmen of the half cen- 
tury just before the great religious revolt in Ger- 
many are to be found some of the best known 
names in the history of the intellectual develop- 
ment of the race. This statement is so contrary 
to the usual impression that obtains in regard to 
the character of that period as to be a distinct 
source of surprise to the ordinary reader of his- 
tory who has the realization of its truth thrust 
upon him for the first time. Just before the so- 
p called Reformation, the clergy are considered to 
L have been so sunk in ignorance, or at least to 


have been so indifferent to intellectual pursuits 
and so cramped in mind as regards progress, or 
so timorous because of inquisition methods, that_y 
no great advances in thought, and especially none 
in science, could possibly be looked for from 
them. To find, then, that not only were faithful 
churchmen leaders in thought, discoverers in 
science, organizers in education, initiators of new- 
progress, teachers of the New Learning, but that 
they were also typical representatives and yet 
prudent directors of the advancing spirit of that 
truly wonderful time, is apt to make us think 
that surely — as the Count de Maistre said one 
hundred years ago, and the Cambridge Modern 
History repeats at the beginning of the twen- 
tieth century when treating of this very period — • 
"history has been a conspiracy against the truth." 
Not quite fifty years before Luther's move- 
ment of protest began — that is, in 1471 — there 
passed away in a little town in the Rhineland a 
man who has been a greater spiritual force than 
perhaps any other single man that has ever ex- 
isted. This was Thomas a Kempis, a product of J r 
the schools of the Brethren of the Common Life, 
a teaching order that during these fifty years 
before the Protestant Revolution had over ten 
thousand pupils in its schools in the Rhineland 
and the Netherlands alone. As among these 
pupils there occur such names as Erasmus, Nich- 
olas of Cusa, Agricola, not to mention many less 
illustrious, some idea of this old teaching insti- 
tution, that has been very aptly compared to our 


modern Brothers of the Christian Schools, can 
be realized. 

Kempis was a worthy initiator of a great half 
century. He had among his contemporaries, or 
followers in the next generation, such men as 
Grocyn, Dean Colet, and Linacre in England, 
Cardinal Ximenes in Spain, and Copernicus in 
Germany. Considering the usual impression in 
this matter as regards the lack of interest at Rome 
in serious study, it is curiously interesting to 
realize how closely these great scholars and think- 
ers were in touch with the famous popes of the 
f* Renaissance period. The second half of the six- 
teenth century saw the elevation to the papacy 
of some of the most learned and worthy men that 
have ever occupied the Chair of Peter. In 1447 
Nicholas V became pope, and during his eight 
years of pontificate initiated a movement of sym- 
pathy with modern art and letters that was never 
to be extinguished. To him more than to any 
other may be attributed the foundation of the 
Vatican Library. To him also is attributed the 
famous expression that " no art can be too lofty 
for the service of the Church." He was suc- 
ceeded by Calixtus III, a patron of learning, who 
was followed by Pius II, the famous yEneas Syl- 
vius, one of the greatest scholars and most 
learned men of his day, who had done more for 
the spread of culture and of education in the 
various parts of Europe than perhaps any other 
alive at the time. 

The next Pope, Paul II, accomplished much 


during a period of great danger by arousing the 
Christian opposition to the Saracens. His en- 
couragement and material aid to the Hungarians, 
who were making a bold stand against the Ori- 
ental invaders, merit for him a place in the role 
of defenders of civilization. To him is due the 
introduction of the recently discovered art of 
printing and its installation on a sumptuous scale 
worthy of the center of Christian culture. His 
successor, Sixtus IV, deserves the title of the 
founder of modern Rome. Bridges, aqueducts, 
public buildings, libraries, churches — all owe to 
his fostering care their restoration and renewed 
foundation. He made it the purpose of his life 
to attract distinguished humanistic scholars to 
his capital, and Rome became the metropolis of 
culture and learning as well as the mother city 
of Christendom. 

Under such popes it is no wonder that Rome 
and the cities of Italy generally became the homes 
of art and culture, centers of the new humanistic 
learning and the shelters of the scholars of the 
outer world. The Italian universities entered on 
a period of intellectual and educational develop- 
ment as glorious almost as the art movement 
that characterized the time. As this was marked 
"by the work of such men as that universal genius 
Leonardo da Vinci, of Michael Angelo, poet, 
painter, sculptor, architect; of Raphael, Titian, 
and Correggio, whose contemporaries were 
worthy of them in every way, some idea can be 
attained of the wonderful era that developed. No 



wonder scholars in every department of learning 
flocked to Italy for inspiration and the enthusiasm 
bred of scholarly fellowship in such an environ- 
ment. From England came men like Linacre, 
Selling, Grocyn, and Dean Colet; Erasmus came 
from the Netherlands, and Copernicus from 
Poland. Copernicus there obtained that scientific 

f training which was later to prove so fruitful in 
his practical work as a physician and in his sci- 
entific work as the founder of modern astronomy. 
It may be as well to say at the beginning that 
[ even Copernicus was not the first to suggest that 
the earth moved, and not the sun ; and that, curi- 
ously enough, his anticipator was another church- 
man, Nicholas of Cusa, the famous Bishop of 
Brixen. Readers of Janssen's History of the 
German People will remember that the distin- 
guished historian introduces his monumental 
work by a short sketch of the career of Cusanus,J 
as he is called, who may be well taken as the 
typical pre-Reformation scholar and clergyman. 
Cusa wrote in a manuscript — which is still pre- 
served in the hospital of Cues, or Cusa — pub- 
lished for the first time by Professor Clemens in 
1847 : " I have long considered that this earth 
can not be fixed, but moves as do the other stars 
— sed movetur ut alice stellce" What a curious 

T commentary these words, written more than half 
a century before Galileo was born, form on the 

[ famous expression so often quoted because sup- 
posed to have been drawn from Galileo by the 
condemnation of his doctrine at Rome : E pur se 


muove — " and yet it moves !" Cusanus was a 
Cardinal, the personal friend of three popes, and 
he seems to have had no hesitation in expressing 
his opinion in the matter. In the same manu- 
script the Cardinal adds : "And to my mind the 
earth revolves upon its axis once in a day and a 
night." Cusanus was, moreover, one of the most 
independent thinkers that the world has ever 
seen, yet he was intrusted by the pope about the 
middle of the fifteenth century with the refor- 
mation of abuses in the Church in Germany. 
The pope seems to have been glad to be able to 
secure a man of such straightforward ways for 
his reformatory designs. 

The ideas of Nicholas of Cusa with regard to 
knowledge and the liberty of judgment in things 
not matters of faith can be very well appreciated 
from some of his expressions. " To know and 
to think/' he says in one passage, " to see the 
truth with the eye of the mind is always a joy. 
The older a man grows, the greater is the pleas- 
ure it affords him ; and the more he devotes him- 
self to the search after truth, the stronger grows 
his desire of possessing it. As love is the life of 
the heart, so is the endeavor after knowledge and 
truth the life of the mind. In the midst of the 
movements of time, of the daily work of life, of 
its perplexities and contradictions, we should lift 
our gaze fearlessly to the clear vault of heaven 
and seek ever to obtain a firmer grasp of, and 
keener insight into, the origin of all goodness and 
duty, the capacities of our own hearts and minds, 


the intellectual fruits of mankind throughout the 
centuries, and the wondrous works of nature 
around us ; but ever remembering that in humil- 
ity alone lies true greatness, and that knowledge 
and wisdom are alone profitable in so far as our 
lives are governed by them." 1 It is no wonder, 
then, that the time was ripe for Copernicus and 
his great work in astronomy, nor that that work 
should be accomplished while he was a canon of 
a cathedral and for a time the vicar-general of a 

It is now nearly five years since Father Adolph 
Muller, S. J., professor of Astronomy in the Pon- 
tifical Gregorian University of Rome, and direc- 
tor of a private observatory on the Janiculum in 
that city, wrote his historical scientific study 2 
of the great founder of modern astronomy. 
The book has been reviewed, criticized and dis- 
cussed very thoroughly since then, and has been 
translated into several languages. The latest 
translation was into Italian, the work of Father 
Pietro Mezzetti, S. J., 3 and was published in 
Rome at the end of 1902 — having had the benefit 

1 History of the German People at the Close of the 
Middle Ages. By Johannes Janssen. Translated from 
the German by M. A. Mitchell and A. M. Christie. 
Vol. I, p. 3. 

2 Nikolaus Kopernicus, Der Altmeister der neueren 
Astronomie ) Ein Lebens und Kultur Bild. Von Adolf 
Muller, S. J. 

3 Professor of Astronomy and Physics at the Pontif- 
ical Leonine College of Anagni. 


of the author's revision. The historical details, 
then, of Copernicus's life may be considered to 
have been cast into definite shape, and his career 
may be appreciated with confidence as to the ab- 
solute accuracy and essential significance of all 
its features. 

Nicholas Copernicus — to give him the Latin 
and more usual form of his name — was the \j/ 
youngest of four children of Niclas Copernigk, 
who removed from Cracow in Poland to Thorn 
in East Prussia (though then a city of Poland), 
where he married Barbara Watzelrode, a daugh- 
ter of one of the oldest and wealthiest families of 
the province. His mother's brother, after hav- 
ing been a canon for many years in the cathedral' 
of Frauenburg, was elected Bishop of the Prov- 
ince of Ermland. The future astronomer was 
jjporn in 1473, at a time when Thorn, after hav- 
ing been for over two hundred years under the 
rule of the Teutonic Knights, had for some 
seven years been under the dominion of the King 
of Poland. There were two boys and two girls 
in the family ; and their fervent Catholicity can 
be judged from the fact that all of them, parents 
and children, were inscribed among the members 
of the Third Order of St. Dominic. Barbara, 
the older sister, became a religious in the Cister- 
cian Convent of Kulm, of which her aunt Cath- 
erine was abbess, and of which later on she her- 
self became abbess. Andrew, the oldest son, be- 
came a priest; and Nicholas, the subject of this 
sketch, at least assumed, as we shall see, all the 


obligations of the ecclesiastical life, though it is 
not certain that he received the major religious 

Copernicus's collegiate education was obtained 
at the University of Cracow, at that time one of 
the most important seats of learning in Europe. 
The five-hundredth anniversary of the founding 
of this University was celebrated with great 
pomp only a few years ago. Its origin, how- 
ever, dates back to the times of Casimir the Great, 
at the end of the thirteenth or the beginning of 
the fourteenth century. Its foundation was due 
to the same spirit of enthusiasic devotion to 
letters that gave us all the other great univer- 
sities of the thirteenth century. The original in- 
stitution was so much improved by Jagello, King 
of Poland, at the beginning of the fifteenth cen- 
tury, that it bears his name and is known as the 
Jagellonian University. It was very natural for 
Copernicus to go back to his father's native city 
for his education; but his ambitious spirit was 
not content with the opportunities afforded there. 
He does not seem to have taken his academic de- 
grees, and the tradition that he received his doc- 
torate in medicine at the University of Cracow 
cannot be substantiated by any documentary evi- 

At Cracow, Copernicus devoted himself mainly 
to classical studies, though his interest in astron- 
omy seems to have been awakened there. In 
fact, it is said that his desire to be able to read 
Ptolemy's astronomy in the original Greek, and 


to obtain a good copy of it, led him to look to 
Italy for his further education. During his years 
at Cracow, however, he seems to have made nu- 
merous observations in astronomy, as most of the 
astronomical data in his books are found reduced 
to the meridian' of Cracow. The observatory of 
Frauenburg, at which his work in astronomy in 
later life was carried on, was on the same merid- 
ian; so that it is difficult to say, as have some of 
his biographers, that, since Cracow was the cap- 
ital of his native country, motives of patriotism 
influenced him to continue his observations ac- 
cording to this same meridian. Copernicus was 
anxious, no doubt, to come in contact with some 
of the great astronomers at the universities of 
Italy, whom he knew by reputation and whose 
work was attracting attention all over Europe at 
that time. 

How faithfully Copernicus applied himself to 
his classical studies can be best appreciated from 
some Latin poems written by him during his stu- 
dent days. These poems are an index, too, of 
the personal character of the man, and give some 
interesting hints of the religious side of his char- 
acter. Altogether there are seven Latin odes, 
each ode composed of seven strophes. The seven 
odes are united by a certain community of in- 
terest or succession of subjects. All of them 
refer to the history of the Redeemer either in 
types or in reality. In the first one the prophets 
prefigure the appearance of the Saviour; in the 
second the patriarchs sigh for His coming; the 


third depicts the scene of the Nativity in the 
Cave of Bethlehem ; the fourth is concerned with 
the Circumcision and the imposition of the Name 
chosen by the Holy Ghost; the fifth treats of the 
Star and the Magi and their guidance to the 
Manger; the sixth concerns the presentation in 
the Temple ; and the seventh, the scene in which 
Jesus at the age of twelve disputes with the doc- 
tors in the Temple at Jerusalem. 

Copernicus's recent biographers have called 
attention particularly to the poetical beauties with 
which he surrounds every mention of the Blessed 
Virgin and her qualities. As is evident even 
from our brief resume of the subjects of the 
odes, the themes selected are just those in which 
the special devotion of the writer to the Mother 
of the Saviour could be very well brought out. 
There are, besides, a number of astronomical 
allusions which stamp the poems as the work of 
Copernicus, and which have been sufficient to 
defend their authenticity against the attacks made 
by certain critics, who tried to point out how 
different was the style from that of Copernicus's 
later years in his scientific writings. The tradi- 
tion of authorship is, however, too well estab- 
lished on other grounds to be disturbed by criti- 
cism of this sort. The poems were dedicated to 
the Pope. In writing poetry Copernicus was 
only doing what Tycho Brahe and Kepler, his 
great successors in astronomy, did after him; 
and the argument with regard to the difference 
of style in the two kinds of writings would hold 
also as regards these authors. 


Copernicus's years as a boy and man — that is, 
up to the age of thirty-five — corresponded with 
a time of great intellectual activity in Europe. 
This fact is not as generally recognized as it 
should be, for intellectual activity is supposed to 
have awakened after the so-called Reformation. 
During the years from 1472 to 1506, however, 
there were founded in Germany alone no less 
than six universities : those of Ingolstadt, Treves, 
Tubingen, Mentz, Wittenberg, and Frankfort- 
on-the-Oder. These were not by any means the 
first great institutions of learning that arose in 
Germany. The universities of Prague and 
Vienna were more than a century old, and, with 
Heidelberg, Cologne, Erfurt, Leipsic, and Ros- 
tock, besides Greifswald and Freiburg, founded 
about the middle of the fifteenth century, had 
reached a high state of development, and con- 
tained larger numbers of students, with few ex- 
ceptions, than these same institutions have ever 
had down to our own day. In most cases their 
charters were derived from the pope; and most 
of the universities were actually recognized as 
ecclesiastical institutions, in the sense that their 
officials held ecclesiastical authority. 

At this time — the end of the fifteenth and the 
beginning of the sixteenth century — it was not 
unusual for students, in their enthusiasm for 
learning, to attempt to exhaust nearly the whole 
round of university studies. Medicine seems to 
have been a favorite subject with scholars who 
were widely interested in knowledge for its own 


sake. Almost at the same time that Copernicus 
was studying in Italy, the distinguished Eng- 
lish Greek scholar, Linacre, was also engaged 
in what would now be called post-graduate 
work at various Italian universities, and in 
the household of Lorenzo the Magnificent at 
Florence, with whose son — so much did Lorenzo 
think of him — he was allowed to study Greek. 
Linacre (as will be seen more at length in the 
sketch of his life in this volume), besides being 
the greatest Greek scholar of his time, the friend 
later of More and Colet and Erasmus in London, 
was also the greatest physician in England. 

To those familiar with the times, it may be a 
source of surprise to think of Copernicus, inter- 
ested as we know him to have been in literature 
and devoted so cordially to astronomy, yet tak- 
ing up medicine as a profession. He seems, 
however, to have been led to do so by his dis- 
tinguished teacher, Novara, who realized the 
talent of his Polish pupil for mathematics and 
astronomy and yet felt that he should have some 
profession in life. A century ago Coleridge, the 
English writer, said that a literary man should 
have some other occupation. Oliver Wendell 
Holmes improved upon this by adding: "And, as 
far as possible, he should confine himself to the 
other occupation." Novara seems to have real- 
ized that Copernicus might be under the neces- 
sity of knowing how to do something else be- 
sides making astronomical observations, in order 
to gain his living; and as medicine was satisfy- 


ingly scientific, the old teacher suggested his tak- 
ing it up as a profession. Copernicus made his 
medical studies in Ferrara and Padua, and ob- 
tained his doctorate with honors from Ferrara. 

Copernicus seems to have taken up the prac- 
tice of his profession seriously, and to have per- 
severed in it to the end of his life. His biog- 
raphers say that in the exercise of his professional 
duties he was animated by the spirit of a person 
who had devoted himself to the ecclesiastical life. 
While he did not publicly practise his profession, 
he was ever ready to assist the poor ; and he also 
acquired great reputation in the surrounding 
country for his medical attendance upon clerics 
of all ranks. This continued to be the case, not- 
withstanding the fact that after the death of his 
uncle his mother inherited considerable wealth, 
and the family circumstances changed so much 
that he might well have given up any labors that 
were meant only to add to his income. In a 
word, he seems to have had a sincere interest in 
his professional work, and to have continued its 
exercise because of the opportunities it afforded 
for the satisfaction of a mind devoted to scien- 
tific research. 

Copernicus acquired considerable reputation 
by his medical services. His friend Giese speaks 
of him as a very skilful physician, and even calls 
him a second iEsculapius. Maurice Ferber, who 
became Bishop of Ermland in 1523, suffered 
from a severe chronic illness that began about 
1529. He obtained permission from the canons 


of the cathedral to have Doctor Copernicus, 
whose ability and zeal he never ceased to praise, 
to come from the cathedral town where he ordi- 
narily resided to Heilsburg, in order to have 
him near him. Bishop Ferber's successor, Dan- 
tisco, also secured Copernicus's aid in a severe 
illness, and declared that his restoration to health 
was mainly due to the efforts of his learned 
physician. Giese was so confident of the Doc- 
tor's skill that when he became Bishop of Kulm 
and on one of his episcopal visitations fell ill at 
a considerable distance from Copernicus's place 
of residence, he insisted on having the astron- 
omer doctor brought to take care of him. 

In 1 541 Duke Albert of Prussia became very 
much worried over the illness of one of his most 
trusted counsellors. In his distress he had re- 
course to Copernicus, and his letter asking the 
Canon of the Cathedral of Frauenburg- to come 
to attend the patient is still extant. He says that 
the cure of the illness is " very much at his 
heart " ; and, as every other means has failed, 
he hopes Copernicus will do what he can for the 
assistance of his faithful and valued counsellor. 
Copernicus yielded to the request, and the coun- 
sellor began to improve shortly after his arrival. 
At the end of some weeks the Duke wrote again 
to the canons of the cathedral asking that the 
leave of absence granted to Copernicus should be 
extended in order to enable him to complete the 
cure which had been so happily begun. In this 
second letter the Duke talks of Copernicus as a 


most skilful and learned physician. At the end 
of the month there is a third letter from the 
Duke, in which he thanks all the canons of the 
cathedral for their goodness in having granted 
the desired permission, and he adds that he shall 
ever feel under obligations " for the assistance 
rendered by that very worthy and excellent physi- 
cian, Nicholas Copernicus, a doctor who is de- 
serving of all honor." Not long afterward, 
when Copernicus's book on astronomy was pub- 
lished, a copy of it was sent to the Duke, and he 
replied that he was deeply grateful for it, and 
that he should always preserve it as a souvenir 
of the most learned and gentlest of men. 

There are a number of notes on the art of 
medicine made by Copernicus in the books of the 
cathedral library at Frauenburg. They serve to 
show how faithful a student he was, and to a 
certain extent give an idea of the independent 
habit of mind which he brought to the investiga- 
tion of medicine as well as to the study of astron- 
omy. Unfortunately, these have not as yet found 
an editor; but it is to be hoped that we shall 
soon know more of the medical thinking of a 
man over whose mind tradition, in the unworthier 
sense of that word, exercised so little influence. 

In 1530 Copernicus wrote a short prelude to 
the longer work on astronomy which he was to 
publish later. The propositions contained in this 
work show how far he had advanced on the road 
to his ultimate discovery. After a few words of 
introduction, the following seven axioms are laid 
down : — 


1. The celestial spheres and their orbits have 
not a single center. 

2. The center of the earth is not the center of 
the universe, but only the center of gravity and 
of the moon's orbit. 

3. The planes of the orbits lie around the sun, 
which may be considered as the center of the 

4. The distance from the earth to the sun 
compared with that from the earth to the fixed 
stars is extremely small. 

5. The daily motion of the heavenly sphere is 
apparent — that is, it is an effect of the rotary 
motion of the earth upon it axis. 

6. The apparent motions of the moon and of 
the sun are so different because of the effect pro- 
duced by the motion of the earth. 

7. The movements of the earth account for the 
apparent retrograde motion and other irregular- 
ities of the movements of the planets. It is 
enough to assume that the earth alone moves, in 
order to explain all the other movements ob- 
served in the heavens. 

It is no wonder that one of his bishop-friends, 
Frisio, writing to another bishop-friend, Dan- 
tisco, said : " If Copernicus succeeds in demon- 
strating the truth of his thesis — and we may well 
consider that he will from this prelude — he will 
give us a new heaven and a new earth/' This 
shorter exposition of Copernicus's views was 
found in manuscript in the imperial library in 
Vienna only about a quarter of a century ago. 


It is mentioned by Tycho Brahe in one of his 
works on astronomy in which he reviews the 
various contemporary advances made in the 
knowledge of the heavens. 

The publication of Copernicus's great work, 
" De Revolutionibus Orbium Celestium," was 
delayed until he was advanced in years, because 
his astronomical opinions were constantly pro- 
gressing; and, with the patience of true genius, 
he was not satisfied with anything less than the 
perfect expression of truth as he saw it. It has 
sometimes been said that it was delayed because 
Copernicus feared the storm of religious perse- 
cution which he foresaw it would surely arouse. 
How utterly without foundation is this pretence, 
which has unfortunately crept into serious his- 
tory, can be seen from the fact that Pope Paul 
III accepted the dedication of the work; and of 
the twelve popes who immediately followed Paul 
not one even thought of proceeding against 
Copernicus's work. His teaching was never 
questioned by any of the Roman Congregations 
for nearly one hundred years after his death. 
Galileo's injudicous insistence in his presenta- 
tion of Copernicus's doctrine, on the novelties 
of opinion that controverted long-established 
beliefs, was . then responsible for the condem- 
nation by the Congregation of the Index; 
and, as we shall see, this was not absolute, but 
only required that certain passages should be" 
corrected. The corrections demanded were un- 
important as regards the actual science, and 


merely insisted that Copernicus's teaching was 
hypothesis and not yet actual demonstration. 

It must not be forgotten, after all, that the 
reasons advanced by Copernicus for his idea of 
the movements of the planets were not supported 
by any absolute demonstration, but only by rea- 
sons from analogy. Nearly a hundred years 
later than his time, even after the first discoveries 
had been made by the newly constructed tele- 
scopes, in Galileo's day, there was no absolute 
proof of the true system of the heavens. The 
famous Jesuit astronomer, Father Secchi, says 
the reasons adduced by Galileo were no real 
proofs : they were only certain analogies, and by 
no means excluded the possibility of the contrary 
propositions with regard to the movements of 
the heavens being true. " None of the real 
proofs for the earth's rotation upon its axis were 
known at the time of Galileo, nor were there 
direct conclusive arguments for the earth's mov- 
ing around the sun." Even Galileo himself con- 
-^> fessed that he had not any strict demonstration 
of his views, such as Cardinal Bellarmine re- 
quested. He wrote to the Cardinal, " The sys- 
tem seems to be true;" and he gave as a reason 
that it corresponded to the phenomena. 

According to the astronomers of the time, 
however, the old Ptolemaic system, in the shape 
in which it was explained by the Danish astron- 
omer Tycho Brahe, who was acknowledged as 
the greatest of European astronomers, appeared 
to give quite a satisfactory explanation of the 


phenomena observed. The English philosopher, 
Lord Bacon, more than a decade after Galileo's 
announcement, considered that there were cer- 
tain phenomena in nature contrary to the Coper- 
nican theory, and so he rejected it altogether. 
This was within a few years of the condemna- 
tion by the Congregation at Rome. As pointed 
out by Father Heinzle, S. J., in his article on 
Galileo in the "Catholic World" for 1887, 
" science was so far from determining the ques- 
tion of the truth or falsity of either the Ptolemaic 
or the Copernican system that shortly before 
1633, the year of Galileo's condemnation, a num- 
"ber of savants, such as Fromond in Louvain, 
Morin in Paris, Berigard in Pisa, Bartolinus in 
Copenhagen, and Scheiner in Rome, wrote 
against Copernicanism." 

As we have said, Copernicus's book was not 
condemned unconditionally by the Roman author- 
ities, but only until it should be corrected. This 
assured protection to the principal part of the 
work, and the warning issued by the Roman 
Congregation in the year 1820 particularizes the 
details that had to be corrected. It is interesting 
to note that whenever Copernicus is spoken of in 
this Monitum it is always in flattering terms as 
a " noble astrologer " — the word astrologer hav- 
ing at that time no unworthy meaning. The 
whole work is praised and its scientific quality 

The passages requiring correction were not 
many. In the first book, at the beginning of the 



fifth chapter, Copernicus made the declaration 
that " the immobility of the earth was not a de- 
cided question, but was still open to discussion." 
In place of these words it was suggested that the 
following should be inserted : " In order to ex- 
plain the apparent motions of the celestial bodies, 
it is a matter of indifference whether we admit 
that the earth occupies a place in the middle of 
the heavens or not." 

In the eighth chapter of the first book, Coper- 
nicus said : " Why, then, this repugnance to con- 
cede to our globe its own movement as natural 
to it as is its spherical form? Why prefer to 
make the whole heavens revolve around it, with 
the great danger of disturbance that would re- 
sult, instead of explaining all these apparent 
movements of the heavenly bodies by the real 
rotation of the earth, according to the words of 
^neas, ' We are carried from the port, and the 
land and the cities recede ' ?" This passage was 
to be modified as follows : " Why not, then, ad- 
mit a certain mobility of the earth corresponding 
to its form, since the whole universe of which 
we know the bounds is moved, producing ap- 
pearances which recall to the mind the well- 
known saying of ^Eneas in Virgil, ' The land 
and the cities recede ' ?" 

Toward the end of the same chapter Coper- 
nicus, continuing the same train of thought, says : 
" I do not fear to add that it is incomparably 
more unreasonable to make the immense vault 
of the heavens revolve than to admit the revolu- 


tion of our little terrestrial globe." This pas- 
sage was to be modified as follows : " In one 
case as well as in the other — that is, whether we 
admit the rotation of the earth or that of the 
heavenly spheres — we encounter the same diffi- 

The ninth chapter of the first book begins with 
these words : " There being no difficulty in ad- 
mitting, then, the mobility of the earth, let us 
proceed to see whether it has one or a number 
of movements, and whether, therefore, our earth 
is a simple planet like the other planets." The 
following words were to be substituted : " Sup- 
posing, then, that the earth does move, it is 
necessary to examine whether this movement is 
multiple or not." 

Toward the middle of the tenth chapter Coper- 
nicus declares : " I do not hesitate to defend the 
proposition that the earth, accompanied by the 
moon, moves around the sun ;" while the word- 
ing of this proposition had to be changed so as 
to substitute the term " admit " for " defend." 
The title of the eleventh chapter, " Demonstra- 
tion of the Triple Movement of the Earth," was 
modified to read as follows : " The Hypothesis 
of the Triple Movement of the Earth, and- the 
Reasons Therefor." The title of the twentieth 
chapter of the fourth book originally read : " On 
the Size of the Three Stars [Sidera], the sun, 
the moon, and the earth." The word " stars " 
was removed from this title, the earth not being 
considered as a star. The concluding words of 


the tenth chapter of the first book, " So great is 
the magnificent work of the Omnipotent Artif- 
icer," had to be cancelled, because they expressed 
an assurance of the truth of his system not war- 
ranted by knowledge. With these few unim- 
portant changes, any one might read and study 
Copernicus's work with perfect freedom. 

Traditions to the contrary notwithstanding, 
Galileo, because of the friendship and encourage- 
ment of the churchmen in Italy, had been placed 
in conditions eminently suited for study and in- 
vestigation. Several popes and a number of 
prominent ecclesiastics were his constant friends 
and patrons. The perpetual secretary of the 
Paris Academy of Sciences, M. Bertrand, him- 
self a great mathematician and historian, de- 
clares that the long life of Galileo was one of the 
most enviable that is recorded in the history of 
science. " The tale of his misfortunes has con- 
firmed the triumph of the truth for which he 
suffered. Let us tell the whole truth. This 
great lesson was learned without any profound 
sorrow to Galileo ; and his long life, considered 
as a whole, was one of the most serene and en- 
viable in the history of science." 

Copernicus, like Galileo, had clerical friends 
to thank for an environment that proved the 
greatest possible aid to his scientific work. His 
position as Canon of the Cathedral of Frauen- 
burg provided him with learned leisure, while 
his clerical friends took just enough interest in 
his investigations and the preliminary announce- 


merits of his discoveries to make his pursuit of 
astronomical studies to some definite conclusion 
a worthy aim in life. It was this assistance that 
enabled him to publish his book eventually and 
bring his great theory before the world. 

Copernicus, far from having any leanings to- 
ward the so-called " reform " movement (as has 
often been asserted), was evidently a staunch 
supporter of his friend and patron Bishop 
Maurice Ferber, of Ermland, who kept his see 
loyal to Rome at a time when the secularization 
of the Teutonic order and the falling awa)^ of 
many bishops all around him make his position 
as a faithful son of the Church and that of his 
diocese noteworthy in the history of that time 
and place. It may well be said that under less 
favorable conditions Copernicus's work might 
never have been finished. As it was, his book 
met with great opposition from the Reformers, 
but remained absolutely acceptable even to the 
most rigorous churchmen until Galileo's unfor- 
tunate insistence on the points of it that were ( 
opposed to generally accepted theories. ^U 

During all his long life Copernicus remained 
one of the simplest of men. Genius as he was, 
he could not have failed to realize how great was 
the significance of the discoveries he had made 
in astronomy. In spite of this he continued to 
exercise during a long career the simple duties 
of his post as Canon of the Cathedral of Frauen- 
berg, nor did he fail to give such time as was 
asked of him for the medical treatment of the 


poor or of his friends, the ecclesiastics of the 
neighborhood. These duties — as he seems to 
have considered them — must have taken many 
precious hours from his studies, but they were 
given unstintingly. When he came to die, his 
humility was even more prominent than during 
life. It was at his own request that there was 
graven upon his tombstone simply the prayer, 
" I ask not the grace accorded to Paul, not that 
given to Peter : give me only the favor Thou 
didst show to the thief on the cross." There is 
perhaps no better example in all the world of the 
simplicity of true genius nor any better example 
of how sublimely religious may be the soul that 
has far transcended the bounds of the scientific 
knowledge of its own day. 

The greatness of Copernicus's life-work can 
best be realized from the extent to which he 
surpassed even well-known contemporaries in 
astronomy and from his practical anticipation of 
the opinions of some of his greatest successors. 
Even Tycho Brahe, important though he is in 
the history of astronomical science, taught many 
years after Copernicus's death the doctrine that 
the earth is the center of the universe. Newton 
had in Copernicus a precursor who divined the 
theory of universal gravitation; and even Kep- 
ler's great laws, especially the elliptical form of 
the orbits of the planets, are at least hinted at 
in Copernicus's writings. He is certainly one of 
the most original geniuses of all times ; and it is 
interesting to find that the completeness of his 


scholarly career, far from being rendered abor- 
tive by friction with ecclesiastical superiors, as 
we might imagine probable from the traditions 
that hang around his name, was rather made 
possible by the sympathy and encouragement of 
clerical friends and Church authorities. Coper- 
nicus, the scholar, astronomer, physician, and 
clergyman, is a type of the eve of the Reforma- 
tion period, and his life is the best possible refu- 
tation of the slanders with regard to the unpro- 
gressiveness of the Church and churchmen of 
that epoch which have unfortunately been only 
too common in the histories of the time. 



LET us, then, banish into the 
world of fiction that affirmation 
so long repeated by foolish credulity 
which made monasteries an asylum 
for indolence and incapacity, for mis- 
anthropy and pusillanimity, for feeble 
and melancholic temperaments, and 
for men who were no longer fit to 
serve society in the world. Monas- 
teries were never intended to collect 
the invalids of the world. It was not 
the sick souls, but on the contrary 
the most vigorous and healthful the 
human race has ever produced, who 
presented themselves in crowds to 

fill them. — MONTALEMBERT, Monks 

of the West. 



THE Protestant tradition which presumes 
a priori that no good can possibly have 
come out of the Nazareth of the times before the 
Reformation, and especially the immediately pre- 
ceding century, has served to obscure to an un- 
fortunate degree the history of several hundred 
years extremely important in every department 
of education. Strange as it may seem to those 
unfamiliar with the period, it is in that depart- 
ment which is supposed to be so typically mod- 
ern — the physical sciences — that this neglect is 
most serious. Such a hold has this Portestant 
tradition on even educated minds that it is a 
source of great surprise to most people to be told 
that there were in many parts of Europe original 
observers in the physical sciences all during the 
thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth centuries who 
were doing ground-breaking work of the highest 
value, work that was destined to mean much for 
the development of modern science. Speculations 
and experiments with regard to the philosopher's 
stone and the transmutation of metals are sup- 
posed to fill up all the interests of the alchemists 
of those days. As a matter of fact, however, 
men were making original observations of very 



profound significance, and these were considered 
so valuable by their contemporaries that, though 
printing had not yet been invented, even the im- 
mense labor involved in copying large folio vol- 
umes by hand did not suffice to deter them from 
multiplying the writings of these men and thus 
preserving them for future generations, until the 
printing-press came to perpetuate them. 

At the beginning of the twentieth century, 
with some of the supposed foundations of mod- 
ern chemistry crumbling to pieces under the in- 
fluences of the peculiarly active light thrown 
upon older chemical theories by the discovery of 
radium and the radio-active elements generally, 
there is a reawakening of interest in some of 
the old-time chemical observers whose work used 
to be laughed at as so unscientific and whose 
theory of the transmutation of elements into one 
another was considered so absurd. The idea 
that it would be impossible under any circum- 
stances to convert one element into another be- 
longs entirely to the nineteenth century. Even 
so distinguished a mind as that of Newton, in 
the preceding century, could not bring itself to 
acknowledge the modern supposition of the ab- 
surdity of metallic transformation, but, on the 
contrary, believed very firmly in this as a basic 
chemical principle and confessed that it might be 
expected to occur at any time. He had seen 
specimens of gold ores in connexion with metal- 
lic copper, and had concluded that this was a 
manifestation of the natural transformation of 
one of these yellow metals into the other. 


With the discovery that radium transforms 
itself into helium, and that indeed all the so- 
called radio-activities of the very heavy metals 
are probably due to a natural transmutation pro- 
cess constantly at work, the ideas of the older 
chemists cease entirely to be a subject for amuse- 
ment. The physical chemists of the present day 
are very ready to admit that the old teaching of 
the absolute independence of something over 
seventy elements is no longer tenable, except as a 
working hypothesis. The doctrine of matter and 
form taught for so many centuries by the scholas- 
tic philosophers which proclaimed that all matter 
is composed of two principles, an underlying 
material substratum and a dynamic or informing 
principle, has now more acknowledged veri- 
similitude, or lies at least closer to the generally 
accepted ideas of the most progressive scientists, 
than it has at any time for the last two or three 
centuries. Not only the great physicists, but also 
the great chemists, are speculating along lines 
that suggest the existence of but one form of 
matter, modified according to the energies that 
it possesses under a varying physical and chem- 
ical environment. This is, after all, only a re- 
statement in modern terms of the teaching of St. 
Thomas of Aquin in the thirteenth century. 

It is not surprising, then, that there should be 
a reawakening of interest in the lives of some of 
the men who, dominated by the earlier scholastic 
ideas and by the tradition of the possibility of 
finding the philosopher's stone, which would 


transmute the baser metals into the precious 
metals, devoted themselves with quite as much 
zeal as any modern chemist to the observation of 
chemical phenomena. One of the most interest- 
ing of these — indeed he might well be said to be 
the greatest of the alchemists — is the man whose 
only name that we know is that which appears 
on a series of manuscripts written in the High 
German dialect of the end of the fifteenth and 
the beginning of the sixteenth century. That 
name is Basil Valentine, and the writer, accord- 
ing to the best historical traditions, was a Bene- 
dictine monk. The name Basil Valentine may 
only have been a pseudonym, for it has been im- 
possible to trace it among the records of the 
monasteries of the time. That the writer was a 
monk there seems to be no doubt, for his writ- 
ings in manuscript and printed- form began to 
have their vogue at a time when there was little 
likelihood of their being attributed to a monk 
unless an indubitable tradition connected them 
with some monastery. 

This Basil Valentine (to accept the only name 
we have), as we can judge very well from his 
writings, eminently deserves the designation of 
the last of the alchemists and the first of the 
chemists. There is practically a universal recog- 
nition of the fact now that he deserves also the 
title of Founder of Modern Chemistry, not only 
because of the value of the observations con- 
tained in his writings, but also because of the 
fact that they proved so suggestive to certain 


scientific geniuses during the century succeeding 
Valentine's life. Almost more than to have 
added to the precious heritage of knowledge for 
mankind is it a boon for a scientific observer to 
have awakened the spirit of observation in others 
and to be the founder of a new school of thought. 
This Basil Valentine undoubtedly did. 

Besides, his work furnishes evidence that the 
investigating spirit was abroad just when it is 
usually supposed not to have been, for the Thur- 
ingian monk surely did not do all his investigat- 
ing alone, but must have received as well as 
given many a suggestion to his contemporaries 

In the history of education there are two com- 
monplaces that are appealed to oftener than any 
other as the sources of material with regard to 
the influence of the Catholic Church on educa- 
tion during the centuries preceding the Refor- 
mation. These are the supposed idleness of the 
monks, and the foolish belief in the transmuta- 
tion of metals and the search for the philoso- 
pher's stone which dominated the minds of so 
many of the educated men of the time. It is in 
Germany especially that these two features of 
the pre-Reformation period are supposed to be 
best illustrated. In recent years, however, there 
nas come quite a revolution in the feelings even 
of those outside of the Church with regard to 
the proper appreciation of the work of the mon- 
astic scholars of these earlier centuries. Even 
though some of them did dream golden dreams 
over their alembics, the love of knowledge meant 


more to them, as to the serious students of any 
age, than anything that might be made by it. 
As for their scientific beliefs, if there can be a 
conversion of one element into another, as seems 
true of radium, then the possibility of the trans- 
mutation of metals is not so absurd as, for a cen- 
tury or more, it has seemed ; and it is not im- 
possible that at some time even gold may be 
manufactured out of other metallic materials. 

Of course, a still worthier change of mind has 
come over the attitude of educators because of 
the growing sense of appreciation for the won- 
derful work of the monks of the Middle Ages, 
and even of those centuries that are supposed to 
show least of the influence of these groups of 
men who, forgetting material progress, devoted 
themselves to the preservation and the cultiva- 
tion of the things of the spirit. The impression 
that would consider the pre-Reformation monks 
in Germany as unworthy of their high calling in 
the great mass is almost entirely without foun- 
dation. Obscure though the lives of most of 
them were, many of them rose above their en- 
vironment in such a way as to make their work 
landmarks in the history of progress for all time. 

Because their discoveries are buried in the old 
Latin folios that are contained only in the best 
libraries, not often consulted by the modern 
scientist, it is usually thought that the scientific 
investigators of these centuries before the Refor- 
mation did no work that would be worth while 
considering in our present day. It is only some 


one who goes into this matter as a labor of love 
who will consider it worth his while to take the 
trouble seriously to consult these musty old 
tomes. Many a scholar, however, has found his 
labor well rewarded by the discovery of many 
an anticipation of modern science in these vol- 
umes so much neglected and where such treasure- 
trove is least expected. Professor Clifford All- 
butt, the Regius Professor of physics at the Uni- 
versity of Cambridge, in his address on " The 
Historical Relations of Medicine and Surgery 
Down to the End of the Sixteenth Century," 
which was delivered at the St. Louis Congress 
of Arts and Sciences during the Exposition in 
1904, has shown how much that is supposed to 
be distinctly modern in medicine, and above all 
in surgery, was the subject of discussion at the 
French and Italian universities of the thirteenth 
century. William Salicet, for instance, who 
taught at the University of Bologna, published 
a large series of case histories, substituted the 
knife for the Arabic use of the cautery, described 
the danger of wounds of the neck, investigated 
the causes of the failure of healing by first in- 
tention, and sutured divided nerves. His pupil, 
Lanfranc, who taught later at the University of 
Paris, went farther than his master by distin- 
guishing between venous and arterial hemor- 
rhage, requiring digital compression for an hour 
to stop hemorrhage from the venae pulsatiles — 
the pulsating veins, as they were called — and if 
this failed because of the size of the vessel, sug- 

[boston college 


gesting the application of a ligature. Lanfranc's 
chapter on injuries to the head still remains a 
noteworthy book in surgery that establishes be- 
yond a doubt how thoughtfully practical were 
these teachers in the medieval universities. It 
must be remembered that at this time all the 
teachers in universities, even those in the med- 
ical schools as well as those occupied with sur- 
gery, were clerics. Professor Allbutt calls atten- 
tion over and over again to this fact, because it 
emphasizes the thoroughness of educational meth- 
ods, in spite of the supposed difficulties that 
would lie in the way of an exclusively clerical 
teaching staff. 

In chemistry the advances made during the 
thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth centuries 
were even more noteworthy than those in any 
other department of science. Albertus Magnus, 
who taught at Paris, wrote no less than sixteen 
treatises on chemical subjects, and, notwithstand- 
ing the fact that he was a theologian as well as 
a scientist and that his printed works filled six- 
teen folio volumes, he somehow found the time 
to make many observations for himself and per- 
formed numberless experiments in order to clear 
up doubts. The larger histories of chemistry 
accord him his proper place and hail him as a 
great founder in chemistry and a pioneer in orig- 
inal investigation. 

Even St. Thomas of Aquin, much as he was 
occupied with theology and philosophy, found 
some time to devote to chemical questions. After 


all, this is only what might have been expected 
of the favorite pupil of Albertus Magnus. Three 
treatises on chemical subjects from Aquinas's 
pen have been preserved for us, and it is to him 
that we are said to owe the origin of the word 
amalgam, which he first used in describing vari- 
ous chemical methods of metalic combination 
with mercury that were discovered in the search 
for the genuine transmutation of metals. 

Albertus Magnus's other great scientific pupil, 
Roger Bacon, the English Franciscan friar, fol- 
lowed more closely in the physical scientific ways 
of his great master. Altogether he wrote some 
eighteen treatises on chemical subjects. For a 
long time it was considered that he was the in- 
ventor of gunpowder, though this is now known 
to have been introduced into Europe by the 
Arabs. Roger Bacon studied gunpowder and 
various other explosive combinations in consid- 
erable detail, and it is for this reason that he 
obtained the undeserved reputation of being an 
original discoverer in this line. How well he 
realized how much might be accomplished by 
means of the energy stored up in explosives can 
perhaps be best appreciated from the fact that he 
suggested that boats would go along the rivers 
and across the seas without either sails or oars 
and that carriages would go along the streets 
without horse or man power. He considered 
that man would eventually invent a method of 
harnessing these explosive mixtures and of util- 
izing their energies for his purposes without 


danger. It is curiously interesting to find, as 
we begin the twentieth century, and gasolene is 
so commonly used for the driving of automo- 
biles and motor boats and is being introduced 
even on railroad cars in the West as the most 
available source of energy for suburban traffic, 
that this generation should only be fulfilling the 
idea of the old Franciscan friar of the thirteenth 
century, who prophesied that in explosives there 
was the secret of eventually manageable energy 
for transportation purposes. 

Succeeding centuries were not as fruitful in 
great scientists as the thirteenth, and yet at the 
beginning of the fourteenth there was a pope, 
three of whose scientific treatises — one on the 
transmutation of metals, which he considers an 
impossibility, at least as far as the manufacture 
of gold and silver was concerned; a treatise on 
diseases of the eyes, of which Professor Allbutt x 
says that it was not without its distinctive prac- 
tical value, though compiled so early in the his- 
tory of eye surgery; and, finally, his treatise on 
the preservation of the health, written when he 
was himself over eighty years of age — are all 
considered by good authorities as worthy of the 
best scientific spirit of the time. This pope was 
John XXII, of whom it has been said over and 
over again by Protestant historians that he issued 
a bull forbidding chemistry, though he was him- 
self one of the enthusiastic students of chemistry 

1 Address cited. 


in his younger years and always retained his in- 
terest in the science. 1 

During the fourteenth century Arnold of Villa- 
nova, the inventor of nitric acid, and the two 
Hollanduses kept up the tradition of original in- 
vestigation in chemistry. Altogether there are 
some dozen treatises from these three men on 
chemical subjects. The Hollanduses particularly 
did their work in a. spirit of thoroughly frank, 
original investigation. They were more inter- 
ested in minerals than in any other class of sub- 
stances, but did not waste much time on the 
question of transmutation of metals. Professor 
Thompson, the professor of chemistry at Edin- 
burgh, said in his history of chemistry many 
years ago that the Hollanduses have very clear 
descriptions of their processes of treating min- 
erals in investigating their composition, which 
serve to show that their knowledge was by no 
means entirely theoretical or acquired only from 
books or by argumentation. 

Before the end of this fourteenth century, ac- 
cording to the best authorities on this subject, 
Basil Valentine, the more particular subject of 
our essay, was born. 

Valentine's career is a typical example of the 
personally obscure but intellectually brilliant lives 

1 For the refutation of this calumny with regard to 
John XXII, see " Pope John XXII and the supposed 
Bull forbidding Chemistry," by James J. Walsh, Ph. D., 
LL. D., in the Medical Library and Historical Journal, 
October, 1905. 


which these old monks lived. It seems probable, 
according to the best authorities, as we have said, 
that his work began shortly before the middle of 
the fifteenth century, although most of what was 
important in it was accomplished during the 
second half. It would not be so surprising, as 
most people who have been brought up to con- 
sider the period just before the Reformation in 
Germany as wanting in progressive scholars 
might imagine, for a supremely great original 
investigator to have existed in North Germany 
about this time. After all, before the end of the 
century, Copernicus, the Pole, working in north- 
ern Germany, had announced his theory that the 
earth was not the center of the universe, and had 
set forth all that this announcement meant. To 
a bishop-friend who said to him, " But this means 
that you are giving us a new universe," he re- 
plied that the universe was already there, but his 
theory would lead men to recognize its existence. 
In southern Germany, Thomas a Kempis, who 
died in 1471, had traced for man the outlines of 
another universe, that of his own soul, from its 
mystically practical side. These great Germans 
were only the worthy contemporaries of many 
other German scholars scarcely less distinguished 
than these supremes geniuses. The second half 
of the fifteenth century, the beginning of the 
Renaissance in Germany as well as Italy, is that 
wonderful time in history when somehow men's 
eyes were opened to see farther and their minds 
broadened to gather in more of the truth of 


man's relation to the universe, than had ever be- 
fore been the case in all the centuries of human 
existence, or than has ever been possible even in 
these more modern centuries, though supposedly 
we are the heirs of all the ages in the foremost 
files of time. 

Coming as he did before printing, when the 
spirit of tradition was even more rife and domi- 
nating than it has been since, it is almost need- 
less to say that there are many curious legends 
associated with the name of Basil Valentine. 
Two centuries before his time, Roger Bacon, 
doing his work in England, had succeeded in 
attracting so much attention even from the com- 
mon people, because of his wonderful scientific 
discoveries, that his name became a by-word and 
many strange magical feats were attributed to 
him. Friar Bacon was the great wizard even in 
the plays of the Elizabethan period. A number 
of the same sort of myths attached themselves to 
the Benedictine monk of the fifteenth century. 
He was proclaimed in popular story to have been 
a wonderful magician. Even his manuscript, it 
was said, had not been published directly, but 
had been hidden in a pillar in the church attached 
to the monastery and had been discovered there 
after the splitting open of the pillar by a bolt of 
lightning from heaven. It is the extension of 
this tradition that has sometimes led to the 
assumption that Valetine lived in an earlier cen- 
tury, some even going so far as to say that he, 
too, like Roger Bacon, was a product of the thir- 


teenth century. It seems reasonably possible, 
however, to separate the traditional from what is 
actual in his existence, and thus to obtain some 
idea at least of his work, if not of the details of 
his life. The internal evidence from his works 
enable the historian of science to place him within 
a half century of the discovery of America. 

One of the stories told with regard to Basil 
Valentine, because it has become a commonplace 
in philology, has made him more generally known 
than any of his actual discoveries. In one of the 
most popular of the old-fashioned text-books of 
chemistry in use a quarter of a century ago, in 
the chapter on Antimony, there was a story that 
I suppose students never forgot. It was said 
that Basil Valentine, a monk of the Middle Ages, 
was the discoverer of this substance. After hav- 
ing experimented with it in a number of ways, 
he threw some of it out of his laboratory one 
day, where the swine of the monastery, finding it, 
proceeded to gobble it up together with some 
other refuse. He watched the effect upon the 
swine very carefully, and found that, after a 
preliminary period of digestive disturbance, these 
swine developed an enormous appetite and be- 
came fatter than any of the others. This seemed 
a rather desirable result, and Basil Valentine, 
ever on the search for the practical, thought that 
he might use the remedy to good purpose even 
on the members of the community. 

Now, some of the monks in the monastery were 
of rather frail health and delicate constitution, 


and he thought that the putting on of a little fat 
in their case might be a good thing. Accord- 
ingly he administered, surreptitiously, some of 
the salts of antimony, with which he was experi- 
menting, in the food served to these monks. 
The result, however, was not so favorable as in 
the case of the hogs. Indeed, according to one, 
though less authentic, version of the story, some 
of the poor monks, the unconscious subjects of 
the experiment, even perished as the result of 
the ingestion of the antimonial compounds. Ac- 
cording to the better version they suffered only 
the usual unpleasant consequences of taking anti- 
mony, which are, however, quite enough for a 
fitting climax to the story. Basil Valentine called 
the new substance which he had discovered anti- 
mony, that is, opposed to monks. It might be 
good for hogs, but it was a form of monks' bane, 
as it were. 1 

1 It is curious to trace how old are the traditions on 
which some of these old stories that must now be re- 
jected, are founded. I have come upon the story with 
regard to Basil Valentine and the antimony and the 
monks in an old French medical encyclopedia of biog- 
raphy, published in the seventeenth century, and at that 
time there was no doubt at all expressed as to its truth. 
How much older than this it may be I do not know, 
though it is probable that it comes from the sixteenth 
century, when the kakoethes scribendi attacked many 
people because of the facility of printing, and when 
most of the good stories that have so worried the mod- 
ern dry-as-dust historian in his researches for their 
correction became a part of the body of supposed his- 
torical tradition. 


Unfortunately for most of the good stories of 
history, modern criticism has nearly always 
failed to find any authentic basis for them, and 
they have had to go the way of the legends of 
Washington's hatchet and Tell's apple. We are 
sorry to say that that seems to be true also of 
this particular story. Antimony, the word, is 
very probably derived from certain dialectic 
forms of the Greek word for the metal, and the 
name is no more derived from anti and monachus 
than it is from anti and monos (opposed to single 
existence), another fictitious derivation that has 
been suggested, and one whose etymological value 
is supposed to consist in the fact that antimony is 
practically never found alone in nature. 

Notwithstanding the apparent cloud of un- 
founded traditions that are associated with his 
name, there can be no doubt at all of the fact 
that Valentinus — to give him the Latin name by 
which he is commonly designated in foreign liter- 
atures — was one of the great geniuses who, work- 
ing in obscurity, make precious steps into the 
unknown that enable humanity after them to see 
things more clearly than ever before. There are 
definite historical grounds for placing Basil Val- 
entine as the first of the series of careful ob- 
servers who differentiated chemistry from the 
old alchemy and applied its precious treasures of 
information to the uses of medicine. It was be- 
cause of the study of Basil Valentine's work that 
Paracelsus broke away from the Galenic tradi- 
tions, so supreme in medicine up to his time, 


and began our modern pharmaceutics. Follow- 
ing on the heels of Paracelsus came Van Hel- 
mont, the father of modern medical chemistry, 
and these three did more than any others to en- 
large the scope of medication and to make ob- 
servation rather than authority the most import- 
ant criterion of truth in medicine. Indeed, the 
work of these three men dominated medicine, or 
at least the department of pharmaceutics, down 
almost to our own day, and their influence is still 
felt in drug-giving. 

While we do not know the absolute date of 
either the birth or the death of Basil Valentine 
and are not sure even of the exact period in 
which he lived and did his work, we are sure 
that a great original observer about the time of 
the invention of printing studied mercury and 
sulphur and various salts, and above all, intro- 
duced antimony to the notice of the scientific 
world, and especially to the favor of practition- 
ers of medicine. His book, " The Triumphal 
Chariot of Antimony," is full of conclusions not 
quite justified by his premises nor by his obser- 
vations. There is no doubt, however, that the 
observational methods which he employed did 
give an immense amount of knowledge and 
formed the basis of the method of investigation 
by which the chemical side of medicine was to 
develop during the next two or three centuries. 
Great harm was done by the abuse of antimony, 
but then great harm is done by the abuse of any- 
thing, no matter how good it may be. For a 


time it came to be the most important drug in 
medicine and was only replaced by venesection. 

The fact of the matter is that doctors were 
looking for effects from their drugs, and anti- 
mony is, above all things, effective. Patients, 
too, wished to see the effect of the medicines 
they took. They do so even yet, and when anti- 
mony was administered there was no doubt about 
its working. 

Some five years ago, when Sir Michael Foster, 
M. D., professor of physiology in the University 
of Cambridge, England, was invited to deliver 
the Lane lectures at the Cooper Medical College, 
in San Francisco, he took for his subject " The 
History of Physiology." Id the course of his 
lecture on " The Rise of Chemical Physiology " 
he began with the name of Basil Valentine, who 
first attracted men's attention to the many chem- 
ical substances around them that might be used 
in the treatment of disease, and said of him: — 

He was one of the alchemists, but in addition to his 
inquiries into the properties of metals and his search for 
the philosopher's stone, he busied himself with the nature 
of drugs, vegetable and mineral, and with their action as 
remedies for disease. He was no anatomist, no physiol- 
ogist, but rather what nowadays we should call a phar- 
macologist. He did not care for the problem of the 
body, all he sought to understand was how the consti- 
tuents of the soil and of plants might be treated so as 
to be available for healing the sick and how they pro- 
duced their effects. We apparently owe to him the in- 
troduction of many chemical substances, for instance, of 


hydrochloric acid, which he prepared from oil of vitriol 
and salt, and of many vegetable drugs. And he was ap- 
parently the author of certain conceptions which, as we 
shall see, played an important part in the development of 
chemistry and of physiology. To him, it seems, we owe 
the idea of the three " elements," as they were and have 
been called, replacing the old idea of the ancients of the 
four elements — earth, air, fire, and water. It must be 
remembered, however, that both in the ancient and in 
the new idea the word " element " was not intended to 
mean that which it means to us now, a fundamental unit 
of matter, but a general quality or property of matter. 
The three elements of Valentine were (1) sulphur, or 
that which is combustible, which is changed or destroyed, 
or which at all events disappears during burning or 
combustion ; (2) mercury, that which temporarily disap- 
pears during burning or combustion, which is dis- 
sociated in the burning from the body burnt, but which 
may be recovered, that is to say, that which is volatile, 
and (3) salt, that which is fixed, the residue or ash 
which remains after burning. 

The most interesting of Basil Valentine's 
books, and the one which has had the most en- 
during influence, is undoubtedly " The Tri- 
umphal Chariot of Antimony/' It has been 
translated and has had a wide vogue in every lan- 
guage of modern Europe. Its recommendation 
of antimony had such an effect upon medical 
practice that it continued to be the most import- 
ant drug in the pharmacopceia down almost to 
the middle of the nineteenth century. If any 
proof were needed that Basil Valentine or that 
the author of the books that go under that name 
was a monk, it would be found in the introduc- 


tion to this volume, which not only states that 
fact very clearly, but also in doing so makes use 
of language that shows the writer to have been 
deeply imbued with the old monastic spirit. I 
quote the first paragraph of this introduction in 
order to make clear what I mean. The quota- 
tion is taken from the English translation of the 
work as published in London in 1678. Curi- 
ously enough, seeing the obscurity surrounding 
Valentine himself, we do not know for sure who 
made the translation. The translator apologizes 
somewhat for the deeply religious spirit of the 
book, but considers that he was not justified in 
eliminating any of this. Of course, the transla- 
tion is left in the quaint old-fashioned form so 
eminently suited to the thoughts of the old mas- 
ter, and the spelling and use of capitals is not 
changed : 

Basil Valentine: His Triumphant Chariot of Anti- 
mony. — Since I, Basil Valentine, by Religious Vows am 
bound to live according to the Order of St. Benedict, 
and that requires another manner of spirit of Holiness 
than the common state of Mortals exercised in the pro- 
fane business of this World; I thought it my duty be- 
fore all things, in the beginning of this little book, to 
declare what is necessary to be known by the pious 
Spagyrist [old-time name for medical chemist], inflamed 
with an ardent desire of this Art, as what he ought to 
do, and whereunto to direct his aim, that he may lay 
such foundations of the whole matter as may be stable; 
lest his Building, shaken with the Winds, happen to fall, 
and the whole Edifice to be involved in shameful Ruine, 


which otherwise, being founded on more firm and solid 
principles, might have continued for a long series of 
time. Which Admonition I judged was, is and always 
will be a necessary part of my Religious Office; espe- 
cially since we must all die, and no one of us which 
are now, whether high or low, shall long be seen 
among the number of men. For it concerns me to 
recommend these Meditations of Mortality to Posterity, 
leaving them behind me, not only that honor may be 
given to the Divine Majesty, but also that Men may obey 
him sincerely in all things. 

In this my Meditation I found that there were five 
principal heads, chiefly to be considered by the wise and 
prudent spectators of our Wisdom and Art. The first of 
which is, Invocation of God. The second, Contempla- 
tion of Nature. The third, True Preparation. The 
fourth, the Way of Using. The fifth, Utility and Fruit. 
For he who regards not these, shall never obtain place 
among true Chymists, or fill up the number of perfect 
Spagyrists. Therefore, touching these five heads, we 
shall here following treat and so far declare them, as 
that the general Work may be brought to light and per- 
fected by an intent and studious Operator. A 

This book, though the title might seem to in- 
dicate it, is not devoted entirely to the study of 
antimony, but contains many important additions 
to the chemistry of the time. For instance, Basil 
Valentine explains in this work how what he 
calls the spirit of salt might be obtained. He 
succeeded in manufacturing this material by 
treating common salt with oil of vitriol and heat. 
From the description of the uses to which he 
put the end product of his chemical manipulation, 
it is evident that under the name of spirit of salt 


he is describing what we now know as hydro- 
chloric acid. This is the first definite mention of 
it in the history of science, and the method sug- 
gested for its preparation is not very different 
from that employed even at the present time. 
He also suggests in this volume how alcohol may 
be obtained in high strengths. He distilled the 
spirit obtained from wine over carbonate of 
potassium, and thus succeeded in depriving it of 
a great proportion of its water. 

We have said that he was deeply interested in 
the philosopher's stone. Naturally this turned 
his attention to the study of metals, and so it is 
not surprising to find that he succeeded in for- 
mulating a method by which metallic copper 
could be obtained. The substance used for the 
purpose was copper pyrites, which was changed 
to an impure sulphate of copper by the action 
of oil of vitriol and moist air. The sulphate of 
copper occurred in solution, and the copper could 
be precipitated from it by plunging an iron bar 
into it. Basil Valentine recognized the presence 
of this peculiar yellow metal and studied some 
of its qualities. He does not seem to have been 
quite sure, however, whether the phenomenon 
that he witnessed was not really a transmutation 
of the iron into copper, as a consequence of the 
other chemicals present. 

There are some observations on chemical physi- 
ology, and especially with regard to respiration, 
in the book on antimony which show their author 
to have anticipated the true explanation of the 


theory of respiration. He states that animals 
breathe, because the air is needed to support their 
life, and that all the animals exhibit the phenom- 
enon of respiration. He even insists that the 
fishes, though living in water, breathe air, and 
he adduces in support of this idea the fact that 
whenever a river is entirely frozen the fishes die. 
The reason for this being, according to this old- 
time physiologist, not. that the fishes are frozen 
to death, but that they are not able to obtain air 
in the ice as they did in the water, and conse- 
quently perish. 

There are many testimonies to the practical 
character of all his knowledge and his desire to 
apply it for the benefit of ' humanity. The old 
monk could not repress the expression of his im- 
patience with physicians who gave to patients 
for diseases of which they knew little, remedies 
of which they knew less. For him it was an un- 
pardonable sin for a physician not to have faith- 
fully studied the various mixtures that he pre- 
scribed for his patients, and not to know not 
only their appearance and taste and effect, but 
also the limits of their application. Considering 
that at the present time it is a frequent source 
of complaint that physicians often prescribe rem- 
edies with whose physical appearances they are 
not familiar, this complaint of the old-time chem- 
ist alchemist will be all the more interesting for 
the modern physician. It is evident that when 
Basil Valentine allows his ire to get the better 
of him it is because of his indignation over the 


quacks who were abusing medicine and patients 
in his time, as they have ever since. There is a 
curious bit of aspersion on mere book-learning 
in the passage that has a distinctly modern ring, 
and one feels the truth of Russell Lowell's ex- 
pression that to read a great genius, no matter 
how antique, is like reading a commentary in the 
morning paper, so up-to-date does genius ever 
remain : — 

And whensoever I shall have occasion to contend in 
the School with such a Doctor, who knows not how 
himself to prepare his own medicines, but commits that 
business to another, I am sure I shall obtain the Palm 
from him ; for indeed that good man knows not what 
medicines he prescribes to the sick; whether the color 
of them be white, black, grey, or blew, he cannot tell; 
nor doth this wretched man know whether the medicine 
he gives be dry or hot, Cold or humid; but he only 
knows that he found it so written in his Books, and 
thence pretends knowledge (or as it were, Possession) 
by Prescription of a very long time; yet he desires to 
further Information. Here again let it be lawful to ex- 
claim, Good God, to what a state is the matter brought ! 
what goodness of minde is in these men ! what care do 
they take of the sick ! Wo, wo to them ! in the day of 
Judgment they will find the fruit of their ignorance and 
rashness, then they will see Him whom they pierced, 
when they neglected their Neighbor, sought after money 
and nothing else ; whereas were they cordial in their 
profession, they would spend Nights and Days in Labour 
that they might become more learned in their Art, 
whence more certain health would accrew to the sick 
with their Estimation and greater glory to themselves. 
But since Labour is tedious to them, they commit the 


matter to chance, and being secure of their Honour, and 
content with their Fame, they (like Brawlers) defend 
themselves with a certain garrulity, without any respect 
had to Confidence or Truth. 

Perhaps one of the reasons why Valentine's 
book has been of such enduring interest is that 
it is written in an eminently human vein and out 
of a lively imagination. It is full of figures re- 
lating to many other things besides chemistry, 
which serve to show how deeply this investigat- 
ing observer was attentive to all the problems of 
life around him. For instance, when he wants 
to describe the affinity that exists between many 
substances in chemistry, and which makes it im- 
possible for them not to be attracted to one an- 
other, he takes a figure from the attractions that 
he sees exist among men and women. There are 
some paragraphs with regard to the influence of 
the passion of love that one might think rather 
a quotation from an old-time sermon than from 
a great ground-breaking book in the science of 

Love leaves nothing entire or sound in man; it im- 
pedes his sleep ; he cannot rest either day or night ; it 
takes off his appetite that he hath no disposition either 
to meat or drink by reason of the continual torments of 
his heart and mind. It deprives him of all Providence, 
hence he neglects his affairs, vocation and business. 
He minds neither study, labor nor prayer; casts away 
all thoughts of anything but the body beloved; this is 
his study, this his most vain occupation. If to lovers 
the success be not answerable to their wish, or so soon 


and prosperously as they desire, how many melancholies 
henceforth arise, with griefs and sadnesses, with which 
they pine away and wax so lean as they have scarcely 
any flesh cleaving to the bones. Yea, at last they lose 
the life itself, as may be proved by many examples ! for 
such men, (which is an horrible thing to think of) slight 
and neglect all perils and detriments, both of the body 
and life, and of the soul and eternal salvation. 

It is evident that human nature is not different 
in our sophisticated twentieth century from that 
which this observant old monk saw around him 
in the fifteenth. He continues : — 

How many testimonies of this violence which is in 
love, are daily found? for it not only inflames the 
younger sort, but it so far exaggerates some persons far 
gone in years as through the burning heat thereof, they 
are almost mad. Natural diseases are for the most part 
governed by the complexion of man and therefore in- 
vade some more fiercely, others more gently; but Love, 
without distinction of poor or rich, young or old, seizeth 
all, and having seized so blinds them as forgetting all 
rules of reason, they neither see nor hear any snare. 

But then the old monk thinks that he has said 
enough about this subject and apologizes for his 
digression in another paragraph that should re- 
move any lingering doubt there may be with re- 
gard to the genuineness of his monastic char- 
acter. The personal element in his confession is 
so naive and so simply straightforward that in- 
stead of seeming to be the result of conceit, and 
so repelling the reader, it rather attracts his 


kindly feeling for its author. The paragraph 
would remind one in certain ways of that per- 
sonal element that was to become more popular 
in literature after Montaigne had made such ex- 
tensive use of it. 

But of these enough; for it becomes not a religious 
man to insist too long upon these cogitations, or to give 
place to such a flame in his heart. Hitherto (without 
boasting I speak it) I have throughout the whole course 
of my life kept myself safe and free from it, and I pray 
and invoke God to vouchsafe me his Grace that I may 
keep holy and inviolate the faith which I have sworn, 
and live contented with my spiritual spouse, the Holy, 
Catholick Church. For no other reason have I alleaged 
these than that I might express the love with which all 
tinctures ought to be moved towards metals, if ever they 
be admitted by them into true friendship, and by love, 
which permeates the inmost parts, be converted into a 
better state. 

The application of the figure at the end of his 
long digression is characteristic of the period in 
which he wrote and to a considerable extent also 
of the German literary methods of the time. 

In this volume on the use of antimony there 
are in most of the editions certain biographical 
notes which have sometimes been accepted as 
authentic, but oftener rejected. According to 
these, Basil Valentine was born in a town in 
Alsace, on the southern bank of the Rhine. As 
a consequence of this, there are several towns 
that have laid claim to being his birthplace. M. 
Jean Reynaud, the distinguished French philo- 


sophical writer of the first half of the nineteenth 
century, once said that Basil Valentine, like 
Ossian and Homer, had many towns claim him 
years after his death. He also suggested that, 
like those old poets, it was possible that the 
writings sometimes attributed to Basil Valentine 
were really the work not of one man, but of sev- 
eral individuals. There are, however, many ob- 
jections to this theory, the most forceful of which 
is the internal evidence of the books themselves 
and their style and method of treatment. Other 
biographic details contained in " The Triumphal 
Chariot of Antimony " are undoubtedly more 
correct. According to them, Basil Valentine 
travelled in England and Holland on missions 
for his Order, and went through France and 
Spain on a pilgrimage to St. James of Compo- 

Besides this work, there is a number of other 
books of Basil Valentine's, printed during the 
first half of the sixteenth century, that are well- 
known and copies of which may be found in 
most of the important libraries. The United 
States Surgeon General's Library at Washing- 
ton contains several of the works on medical 
subjects, and the New York Academy of Medi- 
cine Library has some valuable editions of his 
works. Some of his other well-known books, 
each of which is a good-sized octavo volume, 
bear the following descriptive titles. (I give them 
in English, though, as they are usually to be 
found, they are in Latin, sixteenth-century trans- 


lations of the original German) : " The World 
in Miniature: or, The Mystery of the World 
and of Human Medical Science/' published at 
Marburg, 1609; — "The Chemical Apocalypse: 
or, The Manifestation of Artificial Chemical 
Compounds," published at Erfurt in 1624; — "A 
Chemico-Philosophic Treatise Concerning Things 
Natural and Preternatural, Especially Relating 
to the Metals and the Minerals," published at 
Frankfurt in 1676 ; — " Haliography : or, The 
Science of Salts : A Treatise on the Prepara- 
tion, Use and Chemical Properties of All the 
Mineral, Animal and Vegetable Salts," published 
at Bologna in 1644; — "The Twelve Keys of 
Philosophy," Leipsic, 1630. 

The great interest manifested in Basil Valen- 
tine's work at the Renaissance period can be best 
realized from the number of manuscript copies 
and their wide distribution. His books were not 
all printed at one place, but, on the contrary, in 
different portions of Europe. The original edi- 
tion of " The Triumphal Chariot of Antimony " 
was published at Leipsic in the early part of the 
sixteenth century. The first editions of the other 
books, however, appeared at places so distant 
from Leipsic as Amsterdam and Bologna, while 
various cities of Germany, as Erfurt and Frank- 
furt, claim the original editions of still other 
works. Many of the manuscript copies still exist 
in various libraries in Europe; and while there 
is no doubt that some unimportant additions to 
the supposed works of Basil Valentine have come 


from the attribution to him of scientific treatises 
of other German writers, the style and the 
method of the principal works mentioned are en- 
tirely too similar not to have been the fruit of a 
single mind and that possessed of a distinct in- 
vestigating genius setting it far above any of its 
contemporaries in scientific speculation and ob- 

The most interesting feature of all of Basil 
Valentine's writings that are extant is the dis- 
tinctive tendency to make his observations of 
special practical utility. His studies in antimony 
were made mainly with the idea of showing how 
that substance might be used in medicine. He 
did not neglect to point out other possible uses, 
however, and knew the secret of the employment 
of antimony in order to give sharpness and defi- 
nition to the impression produced by metal types. 
It would seem as though he was the first scien- 
tist who discussed this subject, and there is even 
some question whether printers and type foun- 
ders did not derive their ideas in this matter 
from Basil Valentine, rather than he from them. 
Interested as he was in the transmutation of 
metals, he never failed to try to find and suggest 
some medicinal use for all of the substances that 
he investigated. His was no greedy search for 
gold and no accumulation of investigations with 
the idea of benefiting only himself. Mankind 
was always in his mind, and perhaps there is no 
better demonstration of his fulfilment of the 
character of the monk than this constant solici- 


tude to benefit others by every bit of investiga- 
tion that he carried out. For him with medieval 
nobleness of spirit the first part of every work 
must be the invocation of God, and the last, 
though no less important than the first, must be 
the utility and fruit for mankind that can be de- 
rived from it. 



LINACRE, as Dr. Payne remarks, 
" was possessed from his youth 
till his death by the enthusiasm of 
learning. He was an idealist de- 
voted to objects which the world 
thought of little use." Painstaking, 
accurate, critical, hypercritical per- 
haps, he remains to-day the chief lit- 
erary representative of British Med- 
icine. Neither in Britain nor in 
Greater Britain have we maintained 
the place in the world of letters cre- 
ated for us by Linacre's noble start. 
Quoted by Osier in ^Equanimtias. 







NOT long ago, in one of his piquant little 
essays, Mr. Augustine Birrell discussed 
the question as to what really happened at the 
time of the so-called Reformation in England. 
There is much more doubt with regard to this 
matter, even in the minds of non-Catholics, than 
is usually suspected. Mr. Birrell seems to have 
considered it one of the most important prob- 
lems, and at the same time not by any means the 
least intricate one, in modern English history. 
The so-called High Church people emphatically 
insist that there is no break in the continuity of 
the Church of England, and that the modern 
Anglicanism is a direct descendant of the old 
British Church. They reject with scorn the idea 
that it was the Lutheran movement on the Con- 
tinent which brought about the changes in the 
Anglican Church at that time. Protestantism 
did not come into England for a considerable 
period after the change in the constitution of the 
Anglican Church, and when it did come its ten- 
dencies were quite as subversal of the authority 
of the Anglican as of the Roman Church. 
Protestantism is the mother of Nonconformism 
in England. It can be seen, then, that the ques- 
tion as to what did really take place in the time 



of Henry VIII and of Edward VI is still open. 
It has seemed to me that no little light on this 
vexed historical question will be thrown by a 
careful study of the life of Dr. Linacre, who, 
besides being the best known physician of his 
time in England, was the greatest scholar of the 
English Renaissance period, yet had all his life 
been on very intimate terms with the ecclesias- 
tical authorities, and eventually gave up his 
honors, his fortune, and his profession to be- 
come a simple priest of the old English Church. 

Considering the usually accepted notions as to 
the sad state of affairs supposed to exist in the 
Church at the beginning of the sixteenth century, 
this is a very remarkable occurrence, and de- 
serves careful study to determine its complete 
significance, for it tells better than anything else 
the opinion of a distinguished contemporary. 
Few men have ever been more highly thought of 
by their own generation. None has been more 
sincerely respected by intimate friends, who were 
themselves the leaders of the thought of their 
generation, than Thomas Linacre, scholar, physi- 
cian and priest ; and his action must stand as the 
highest possible tribute to the Church in Eng- 
land at that time. 

How unimpaired his practical judgment of 
men and affairs was at the time he made his 
change from royal physician to simple priest can 
best be gathered from the sagacity displayed in 
the foundation of the Royal College of Physi- 
cians, an institution he was endowing with the 

linacre: scholar, physician, priest 8i 

wealth he had accumulated in some twenty years 
of most lucrative medical practice. The Royal 
College of Physicians represents the first attempt 
to secure the regulation of the practice of medi- 
cine in England, and, thanks to its founder's 
wonderful foresight and practical wisdom, it re- 
mains down to our own day, under its original 
constitution, one of the most effective and highly 
honored of British scientific foundations. No 
distinction is more sought at the present time by 
young British medical men, or by American or 
even Continental graduates in medicine, than the 
privilege of adding to their names the letters 
" F. R. C. P. (Eng.)," Fellow of the Royal Col- 
lege of Physicians of England. The College 
worked the reformation of medical practice in 
England, and its methods have proved the sug- 
gestive formulae for many another such institu- 
tion and for laws that all over the world protect, 
to some extent at least, the public from quacks 
and charlatans. 

Linacre's change of profession at the end of 
his life has been a fruitful source of conjecture 
and misconception on the part of his biographers. 
Few of them seem to be able to appreciate the 
fact, common enough in the history of the 
Church, that a man may, even when well on in 
years, give up everything to which his life has 
been so far directed, and from a sense of duty 
devote himself entirely to the attainment of "the 
one thing necessary." Linacre appears only to 
have done what many another in the history of 


the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth centuries 
did without any comment; but his English biog- 
raphers insist on seeing ulterior motives in it, or 
else fail entirely to understand it. The same 
action is not so rare even in our own day that it 
should be the source of misconception by later 

Dr. S. Weir Mitchell has, in the early part of 
Dr. North and His Friends, a very curious 
passage with regard to Linacre. One of the 
characters, St. Clair, says : " I saw, the other 
day, at Owen's, a life of one Linacre, a doctor, 
who had the luck to live about 1460 to 1524, 
when men knew little and thought they knew all. 
In his old age he took for novelty to reading St. 
Matthew. The fifth, sixth, and seventh chapters 
were enough. He threw the book aside and 
cried out, ' Either this is not the Gospel, or we 
are not Christians.' What else could he say?" 
St. Clair uses the story to enforce an idea of his 
own, which he states as a question, as follows : 
"And have none of you the courage to wrestle 
with the thought I gave you, that Christ could 
not have expected the mass of men to live the 
life He pointed out as desirable for the first dis- 
ciples of His faith?" 

Dr. Mitchell's anecdote is not accepted by Lin- 
acre's biographers generally, though it is copied 
by Dr. Payne, the writer of the article on Lin- 
acre in the (English) Dictionary of National 
Biography, who, however, discredits it some- 
what. The story is founded on Sir John Cheke's 

linacre: scholar, physician, priest 83 

account of the conversion of Linacre. It is very- 
doubtful, however, whether Linacre's depreca- 
tions of the actions of Christians had reference 
to anything more than the practice of false swear- 
ing so forcibly denounced in the Scriptures, 
which had apparently become frequent in his 
time. This is Selden's version of the story as 
quoted by Dr. Johnson, who was Linacre's well- 
known biographer. Sir John Cheke in his ac- 
count seems to hint that this chance reading of 
the Scriptures represented the first occasion Lin- 
acre had ever taken of an opportunity to read 
the New Testament. Perhaps we are expected 
to believe that, following the worn-out Protes- 
tant tradition of the old Church's discouraging 
of the reading of the Bible, and of the extreme 
scarcity of copies of the Book, this was the first 
time he had ever had a good opportunity to read 
it. This, of course, is nonsense. 

Linacre's early education had been obtained at 
the school of the monastery of Christ Church at 
Canterbury, and the monastery schools all used 
the New Testament as a text-book, and as the 
offices of the day at which the students were re- 
quired to attend contain these very passages from 
Matthew which Linacre is supposed to have read 
for the first time later in life, this idea is pre- 
posterous. Besides, Linacre, as one of the great 
scholars of his time, intimate friend of Sir 
Thomas More, of Dean Colet, and Erasmus, can 
scarcely be thought to find his first copy of the 
Bible only when advanced in years. This is evi- 


dently a post-Reformation addition, part of the 
Protestant tradition with regard to the supposed 
suppression of the Scriptures in pre-Reformation 
days, which every one acknowledges now to be 
without foundation. 

Linacre, as many another before and since, 
seems only to have realized the true significance 
of the striking passages in Matthew after life's 
experiences and disappointments had made him 
take more seriously the clauses of the Sermon 
on the Mount. There is much in fifth, sixth, 
and seventh Matthew that might disturb the com- 
placent equanimity of a man whose main objects 
in life, though pursued with all honorable un- 
selfishness, had been the personal satisfaction of 
wide scholarship and success in his chosen pro- 

With regard to Sir John Cheke's story, Dr. 
John Noble Johnson, who wrote the life of 
Thomas Linacre, 1 which is accepted as the 
authoritative biography by all subsequent writers,, 
says : " The whole statement carries with it an 
air of invention, if not on the part of Cheke 
himself, at least on that of the individual from 
whom he derives it. and it is refuted by Lin- 

1 " The Life of Thomas Linacre," Doctor in Medi- 
cine, Physician to King Henry VIII, the Tutor and 
Friend of Sir Thomas More and the Founder of the 
College of Physicians in London. By John Noble John- 
son, M. D., late Fellow of the Royal College of Physi- 
cians, London. Edited by Robert Graves, of the Inner 
Temple, Barrister at Law. London : Edward Lumley* 
Chancery Lane. 1835. 

linacre: scholar, physician, priest 85 

acre's known habits of moderation and the many 
ecclesiastical friendships which, with a single ex- 
ception, were preserved without interruption 
until his death. It was a most frequent mode of 
silencing opposition to the received and estab- 
lished tenets of the Church, when arguments 
were wanting, to brand the impugner with the 
opprobrious titles of heretic and infidel, the com- 
mon resource of the enemies to innovation in 
every age and country." 

The interesting result of the reflections in- 
spired in Linacre by the reading of Matthew 
was, as has been said, the resignation of his high 
office of Royal Physician and the surrender of 
his wealth for the foundation of chairs in Medi- 
cine and Greek at Oxford and Cambridge. With 
the true liberal spirit of a man who wished to 
accomplish as much good as possible, his foun- 
dations were not limited to his own University 
of Oxford. After these educational foundations, 
however, his wealth was applied to the endow- 
ment of the Royal College of Physicians and its 
library, and to the provision of such accessories 
as might be expected to make the College a per- 
manently useful institution, though left at the 
same time perfectly capable of that evolution 
which would suit it to subsequent times and the 
development of the science and practice of med- 

It is evident that the life of such a man can 
scarcely fail to be of personal as well as historic 


Thomas Linacre was born about 1460 — the 
year is uncertain — at Canterbury. Nothing is 
known of his parents or their condition, though 
this very silence in their regard would seem to 
indicate that they were poor and obscure. His 
education was obtained at the school of the 
monastery of Christ Church, Canterbury, then 
presided over by the famous William Selling, the 
first of the great students of the new learning in 
England. Selling's interest seems to have helped 
Linacre to get to Oxford, where he entered at 
All Souls' College in 1480. In 1484 he was 
elected a Fellow of the College, and seems to 
have distinguished himself in Greek, to which 
he applied himself with special assiduity under 
Cornelio Vitelli. Though Greek is sometimes 
spoken of as having been introduced into West- 
ern Europe only at the beginning of the six- 
teenth century, Linacre undoubtedly laid the 
foundation of that remarkable knowledge of the 
language which he displayed at a later period of 
his life, during his student days at Oxford in 
the last quarter of the fifteenth century. 

Linacre went to Italy under the most auspic- 
ious circumstances. His old tutor and friend at 
Canterbury, Selling, who had become one of the 
leading ecclesiastics of England, was sent to 
Rome as an Ambassador by Henry VII. He 
took Linacre with him. A number of English 
scholars had recently been in Italy and had 
attracted attention by their geniality, by their 
thorough-going devotion to scholarly studies, 

linacre: scholar, physician, priest 87 

and by their success in their work. Selling him- 
self had made a number of firm friends among 
the Italian students of the New Learning on a 
former visit, and they now welcomed him with 
enthusiasm and were ready to receive his pro- 
tege with goodwill and provide him with the 
best opportunities for study. As a member of 
the train of the English ambassador, Linacre had 
an entree to political circles that proved of great 
service to him, and put him on a distinct footing 
above that of the ordinary English student in 

Partly because of these and partly because of 
his own interesting and attractive personal char- 
acter, Linacre had a number of special oppor- 
tunities promptly placed at his disposal. Church 
dignitaries in Rome welcomed him and he was 
at once received into scholarly circles wherever 
he went in Italy. Almost as soon as he arrived 
in Florence, where he expected seriously to take 
up the study of Latin and Greek, he became the 
intimate friend of the family of Lorenzo de' 
Medici, who was so charmed with his personality 
and his readily recognizable talent that he chose 
him for the companion of his son's studies and 
received him into his own household. 

Politian was at this time the tutor of the 
young de' Medici in Latin, and Demetrius Chal- 
condylas the tutor in Greek. Under these two 
eminent scholars Linacre obtained a knowledge 
of Latin and Greek such as it would have been 
impossible to have obtained under any other cir- 


cumstances, and which with his talents at once 
stamped him as one of the foremost humanistic 
scholars in Europe. While in Florence he came 
in contact with Lorenzo the Magnificent's 
younger son, who afterwards became Leo X. 
The friendship thus formed lasted all during 
Linacre's lifetime, and later on he dedicated at 
least one of his books to Alexander de' Medici 
after the latter's elevation to the papal throne. 

It is no wonder that Linacre always looked 
back on Italy as the Alma Mater — the fond 
mother in the fullest sense of the term — to whom 
he owed his precious opportunities for education 
and the broadest possible culture. In after-life 
the expression of his feelings was often tinged 
with romantic tenderness. It is said that when 
he was crossing the Alps, on his homeward jour- 
ney, leaving Italy after finishing his years of 
apprenticeship of study, standing on the highest 
point of the mountains from which he could still 
see the Italian plains, he built with his own 
hands a rough altar of stone and dedicated it to 
the land of his studies — the land in which he had 
spent six happy years — under the fond title of 
Sancta Mater Studiorum. 

At first, after his return from Italy, Linacre 
lectured on Greek at Oxford. Something of the 
influence acquired over English students and the 
good he accomplished may be appreciated from 
the fact that with Grocyn he had such students 
as More and the famous Dean Colet. Erasmus 
also was attracted from the Netherlands and 

linacre: scholar, physician, priest 89 

studied Greek under Linacre, to whom he refers 
in the most kindly and appreciative terms many 
times in his after life. Linacre wrote books be- 
sides lecturing, and his work on certain fine 
points in the grammar of classical Latinity proved 
a revelation to English students of the old clas- 
sical languages, for nothing so advanced as this 
had ever before been attempted outside Italy. 
In one of the last years of the fifteenth century 
Linacre was appointed tutor to Prince Arthur, 
the elder brother of Henry VIII, to whom it will 
be remembered that Catherine of Aragon had 
been betrothed before her marriage with Henry. 
Arthur's untimely death, however, soon put an 
end to Linacres' tutorship. 

As pointed out by Einstein, the reputation of 
Grocyn and Linacre was not confined to Eng- 
land, but soon spread all over the Continent. 
After the death of the great Italian humanists of 
the fifteenth century, who had no worthy succes- 
sors in the Italian peninsula, these two men be- 
came the principal European representatives of 
the New Learning. There were other distin- 
guished men, however, such as Vives, the Span- 
iard; Lascaris, the Greek; Buda, or Budaeus, the 
Frenchman, and Erasmus, whom we have al- 
ready mentioned — all of whom joined at various 
times in praising Linacre. 

Some of Linacre's books were published by 
the elder Aldus at Venice; and Aldus is even 
said to have sent his regrets on publishing his 
edition of Linacre's translation of " The Sphere 


of Proclus," that the distinguished English hu- 
manist had not forwarded him others of his 
works to print. Aldus appreciatively added the 
hope that the eloquence and classic severity of 
style in Linacre's works and in those of the 
English humanists generally " might shame the 
Italian philosophers and scholars out of their un- 
cultured methods of writing." 

Augusta Theodosia Drane (Mother Raphael), 
in her book on " Christian Schools and Schol- 
ars," gives a very pleasant picture of how 
Dean Colet, Eramus, and More used at this 
time to spend their afternoons down at Stepney 
(then a very charming suburb of London), of 
whose parish church Colet was the vicar. They 
stopped at Colet's house and were entertained 
by his mother, to whom we find pleasant refer- 
ences in the letters that passed between these 
scholars. Linacre was also often of the party, 
and the conversations between these greatest stu- 
dents and literary geniuses of their age would 
indeed be interesting reading, if we could only 
have had preserved for us, in some way, the 
table-talk of those afternoons. Erasmus partic- 
ularly was noted for his wit and for his ability to 
turn aside any serious discussions that might 
arise among his friends, so as to prevent any- 
think like unpleasant argument in their friendly 
intercourse. A favorite way seems to have been 
to insist on telling one of the old jokes from a 
classic author whose origin would naturally be 
presumed to be much later than the date the 
New Learning had found for it. 

linacre: scholar, physician, priest 91 

Dean Colet's mother appears to have been 
much more than merely the conventional hostess. 
Erasmus sketches her in her ninetieth year with 
her countenance still so fair and cheerful that 
you would think she had never shed a tear. Her 
son tells in some of his letters to Erasmus and 
More of how much his mother liked his visitors 
and how agreeable she found their talk and witty 
conversation. They seem to have appreciated 
her in turn, for in Mother Raphael's chapter on 
English Scholars of the Renaissance there is 
something of a description of her garden, in 
which were to be found strawberries, lately 
brought from Holland, some of the finer varieties 
of which Mrs. Colet possessed through Eras- 
mus's acquaintance in that country. Mrs. Colet 
also had some of the damask roses that had lately 
been introduced into England by Linacre, who 
was naturally anxious that the mother of his 
friend should have the opportunity to raise some 
of the beautiful flowers he was so much inter- 
ested in domesticating in England. 

It is a very charming picture, this, of the 
early humanists in England, and very different 
from what might easily be imagined by those 
unfamiliar with the details of the life of the 
period. Linacre was later to give up his worldly 
emoluments and honors and become a clergyman, 
in order to do good and at the same time satisfy 
his own craving for self-abnegation. More was 
to rise to the highest positions in England, and 
then for conscience' sake was to suffer death 


rather than yield to the wishes of his king in a 
matter in which he saw principle involved. Dean 
Colet himself was to be the ornament of the 
English clergy and the model of the scholar 
clergyman of the eve of the Reformation, to 
whom many generations were to look back as a 
worthy object of reverence. Erasmus was to 
become involved first with and then against 
Luther, and to be offered a cardinal's hat before 
his death. His work, like Newman's, was done 
entirely in the intellectual field. Meantime, in 
the morning of life, all of them were enjoying 
the pleasures of friendly intercourse and the 
charms of domestic felicity under circumstances 
that showed that their study of humanism and 
their admiration for the classics impaired none 
of their sympathetic humanity or their apprecia- 
tion of the innocent delights of the present. 

For us, however, Linacre's most interesting bio- 
graphic details are those which relate to medicine, 
for, besides his humanistic studies while in Italy, 
Linacre graduated in medicine, obtaining the de- 
gree of doctor at Padua. The memory of the 
brilliant disputation which he sustained in the 
presence of the medical faculty in order to obtain 
his degree is still one of the precious traditions 
in the medical school of Padua. He does not 
seem to have considered his medical education 
finished, however, by the mere fact of having 
obtained his doctor's degree, and there is a tra- 
dition of his having studied later at Vicenza 
under Nicholas Leonicenus, the most celebrated 

linacre: scholar, physician, priest 93 

physician and scholar in Italy at the end of the 
fifteenth century, who many years afterwards 
referred with pardonable pride to the fact that 
he had been Linacre' s teacher in medicine. 

It may seem strange to many that Linacre, 
with all his knowledge of the classics, should 
have devoted himself for so many years to the 
study of medicine in addition to his humanistic 
studies. It must not be forgotten, however, that 
the revival of the classics of Latin and Greek 
brought with it a renewed knowledge of the 
great Latin and Greek fathers of medicine, Hip- 
pocrates and Galen. This had a wonderful effect 
in inspiring the medical students of the time with 
renewed enthusiasm for the work in which they 
v/ere engaged. A knowledge of the classics led 
to the restoration of the study of anatomy, bot- 
any, and of clinical medicine, which had been 
neglected in the midst of application to the Ara- 
bian writers in medicine during the preceding 
centuries. The restoration of the classics made 
of medicine a progressive science in which every 
student felt the possibility of making great dis- 
coveries that would endure not only for his own 
reputation but for the benefit of humanity. 

These thoughts seem to have attracted many 
promising young men to the study of medicine. 
The result was a period of writing and active 
observation in medicine that undoubtedly makes 
this one of the most important of literary medical 
eras. Some idea of the activity of the writers 
of the time can be gathered from the important 


medical books — most of them large folios — 
which were printed during the last half of the 
sixteenth century in Italy. There is a series of 
these books to be seen in one of the cases of the 
library of the Surgeon-General at Washington, 
which, though by no means complete, must be a 
source of never-ending surprise to those who are 
apt to think of this period as a saison morte in 
medical literature. 

There must have been an extremely great in- 
terest in medicine to justify all this printing. 
Some of the books are among the real incunabula 
of the art of printing. For instance, in 1474 
there was published at Bologna De Manfredi's 
" Liber de Homine ;" at Venice, in 1476, Petrus 
de Albano's work on medicine ; and in the next 
twenty years from the same home of printing 
there came large tomes by Angelata, a transla- 
tion of Celsus, and Aurelius Cornelius and 
Articellus's " Thesaurus Medicorum Veterum," 
besides several translations of Avicenna and Pla- 
tina's work " De Honesta Voluptate et Valetu- 
dine." At Ferrara, Arculanus's great work was 
published, while at Modena there appeared the 
" Hortus Sanitatis," or Garden of Health, whose 
author was J. Cuba. There were also transla- 
tions from other Arabian authors on medicine in 
addition to Avicenna, notably a translation of 
Rhazes Abu Bekr Muhammed Ben Zankariah 
Abrazi, a distinguished writer among the Ara- 
bian physicians of the Middle Ages. 

Linacre's translations of Galen remain still the 

linacre: scholar, physician, priest 95 

standard, and they have been reprinted many 
times. As Erasmus once wrote to a friend, in 
sending some of these books of Galen, " I pre- 
sent you with the works of Galen, now by the 
help of Linacre speaking better Latin than they 
ever before spoke Greek." Linacre also trans- 
lated Aristotle into Latin, and Erasmus paid 
them the high compliment of saying that Lin- 
acre's Latin was as lucid, as straightforward, 
and as thoroughly intelligible as was Aristotle's 
Greek. Of the translations of Aristotle unfor- 
tunately none is extant. Of Galen we have the 
"De Sanitate Tuenda," the " Methodus Me- 
dendi," the " De Symptomatum DifTerentiis et 
Causis," and the " De Pulsuum Usu." The latter 
particularly is a noteworthy monograph on an 
important subject, in which Galen's observations 
were of great value. Under the title, " The 
Significance of the Pulse," it has been translated 
into English, and has influenced many genera- 
tions of English medical men. 

While we have very few remains of Linacre's 
work as a physician, there seems to be no doubt 
that he was considered by all those best capable 
of judging, to stand at the head of his profession 
in England. To his care, as one of his biog- 
raphers remarked, was committed the health of 
the foremost in Church and State. Besides be- 
ing the Royal Physician, he was the regular 
medical attendant of Cardinal Wolsey, of Arch- 
bishop Warham, the Primate of England, of 
Richard Fox, Bishop of Winchester, the Keeper 


of the Privy Seal, and of Sir Reginald Bray, 
Knight of the Garter and Lord High Treasurer, 
and of all of the famous scholars of England. 

Erasmus, whilst absent in France, writes to 
give him an account of his feelings, and begs 
him to prescribe for him, as he knows no one 
else to whom he can turn with equal confidence. 
After a voyage across the channel, during which 
he had been four days at sea — making a passage 
by the way that now takes less than two hours — 
Erasmus describes his condition, his headache, 
with the glands behind his ears swollen, his 
temples throbbing, a constant buzzing in his ears ; 
and laments that no Linacre was at hand to re- 
store him to health by skilful advice. In a sub- 
sequent letter he writes from Paris to ask for a 
copy of a prescription given him while in Lon- 
don by Linacre, but which a stupid servant had 
left at the apothecary shop, so that Erasmus 
could not have it filled in Paris. 

An instance of his skill in prognosis, the most 
difficult part of the practice of medicine accord- 
ing to Hippocrates and all subsequent author- 
ities, is cited by all his biographers, with regard 
to his friend William Lily, the grammarian. 
Lily was suffering from a malignant tumor in- 
volving the hip, which surgeons in consultation 
had decided should be removed. Linacre plainly 
foretold that its removal would surely prove 
fatal, and the event verified his unfavorable prog- 
nosis. Generally it seems to have been consid- 
ered that his opinion was of great value in all 

linacre: scholar, physician, priest 97 

serious matters, and it was eagerly sought for. 
Some of the nobility and clergy of the time came 
even from the Continent over to England — by 
no means an easy journe}^, even for a healthy 
man in those days, as can be appreciated from 
Erasmus's experience just cited — in order to ob- 
tain Linacre's opinion. 

One of Erasmus's letters to Billibaldus Pirck- 
heimer contains a particular account of the 
method of treatment by which he was relieved of 
his severe pain under Linacre's direction in a 
very tormenting attack of renal colic. The de- 
tails, especially the use of poultice applications as 
hot as could be borne, show that Linacre thor- 
oughly understood the use of heat in the relaxa- 
tion of spasm, while his careful preparation of 
the remedies to be employed in the presence of 
the patient himself would seem to show that he 
had a very high appreciation of how much the 
mental state of the patient and the attitude of 
expectancy thus awakened may have in giving 
relief even in cases of severe pain. 

The only medical writings of Linacre's that we 
possess are translations. We have said already 
that the reversion at the end of the fifteenth cen- 
tury to the classical authorities in medicine un- 
doubtedly did much to introduce the observant 
phase of medical science, which had its highest 
expression in Vesalius at the beginning of the 
sixteenth century and continued to flourish so 
fruitfully during the next two centuries at most 
of the Italian universities. His translations then 


were of themselves more suggestive contributions 
to medicine than would perhaps have been any- 
even of his original observations, since the mind 
of his generation was not ready as yet to be in- 
fluenced by discoveries made by contemporaries. 

The best proof of Linacre's great practical in- 
terest in medicine is his realization of the need 
for the Royal College of Physicians and his 
arrangements for it. 

The Roll of the College, which comprises bio- 
graphical sketches of all the eminent physicians 
whose names are recorded in the annals from 
the foundation of the College in 15 18, and is 
published under the authority of the College 
itself, contains the best tribute to Linacre's work 
that can possibly be paid. It says : " The most 
magnificent of Linacre's labors was the design 
of the Royal College of Physicians of London — 
a standing monument of the enlightened views 
and generosity of its projectors. In the execu- 
tion of it Linacre stood alone, for the munificence 
of the Crown was limited to a grant of letters 
patent ; whilst the expenses and provision of the 
College was left to be defrayed out of his own 
means, or of those who were associated with him 
in its foundation." "In the year 1518," says 
Dr. Johnson, 1 " when Linacre's scheme was car- 
ried into effect, the practice of medicine was 
scarcely elevated above that of the mechanical 
arts, nor was the majority of its practitioners 

1 Life of Linacre, London, 1835. 

linacre: scholar, physician, priest 99 

among the laity better instructed than the me- 
chanics by whom these arts were exercised. 
With the diffusion of learning to the republics 
and states of Italy, establishments solely for the 
advancement of science had been formed with 
success ; but no society devoted to the interests 
of learning yet existed in England, unfettered by 
a union with the hierarchy, or exempted from 
the rigors and seclusions which were imposed 
upon its members as the necessary obligation of 
a monastic and religious life. In reflecting on 
the advantages which had been derived from 
these institutions, Linacre did not forget the im- 
possibility of adapting rules and regulations 
which accorded with the state of society in the 
Middle Ages to the improved state of learning 
in his own, and his plans were avowedly modelled 
on some similar community of which many cities 
of Italy afforded rather striking examples." 

Some idea of the state into which the practice 
of medicine had fallen in England before Lin- 
acre's foundation of the Royal College of Physi- 
cians may be gathered from the words of the 
charter of the College. " Before this period a 
great multitude of ignorant persons, of whom 
the greater part had no insight into physic, nor 
into any other kind of learning — some could not 
even read the letters on the book, so far forth 
that common artificers as smiths, weavers and 
women — boldly and accustomably took upon them 
great cures to the high displeasure of God, great 
infamy to the faculty, and the grievous hurt, 


damage, and destruction of many of the King's 
liege people." 

After the foundation of the College there was 
a definite way of deciding formally who were, or 
were not, legally licensed to practise. As a con- 
sequence, when serious malpractice came to public 
notice, those without a license were occasionally 
treated in the most summary manner. Stowe, in 
his chronicles, gives a very vivid and picturesque 
description of the treatment of one of these 
quacks who had been especially flagrant in his 
imposition upon the people. A counterfeit doc- 
tor was set on horseback, his face to the horse's 
tail, the tail being forced into his hand as a bridle, 
a collar of jordans about his neck, a whetstone 
on his breast, and so led through the city of 
London with ringing of basins, and banished. 
" Such deceivers," continued the old chronicler, 
" no doubt are many, who being never trained 
up in reading or practice of physics and Chirur- 
gery do boast to do great cures, especially upon 
women, as to make them straight that before 
were crooked, corbed, or crumped in any part of 
their bodies and other such things. But the con- 
trary is true. For some have received gold 
when they have better deserved the whetstone." 1 
Human nature has not changed very much in the 

1 " To get the whetstone " is an old English expres- 
sion, meaning to take the prize for lying. It is derived 
from the old custom of driving rogues, whose wits were 
too sharp, out of town with a whetstone around their 

linacre: scholar, physician, priest ioi 

four centuries since Linacre's foundation, and 
while the model that he set in the matter of pro- 
viding a proper licensing body for physicians has 
done something to lessen the evils complained of, 
the abuses still remain ; and the old chronicler 
will find in our time not a few who, in his 
opinion, might deserve the whetstone. We can 
scarcely realize how much Linacre accomplished 
by means of the Royal College of Physicians, or 
how great was the organizing spirit of the man 
to enable him to recognize the best way out of 
the chaos of medical practice in his time. 

" The wisdom of Linacre's plan," wrote Dr. 
Friend, " speaks for itself. His scheme, with- 
out doubt, was not only to create a good under- 
standing and unanimity among his own profes- 
sion (which of itself was an excellent thought), 
but to make them more useful to the public. 
And he imagined that by separating them from 
the vulgar empirics and setting them upon such 
a reputable foot of distinction, there would al- 
ways arise a spirit of emulation among men liber- 
ally educated, which would animate them in pur- 
suing their inquiries into the nature of diseases 
and the methods of cure for the benefit of man- 
kind ; and perhaps no founder ever had the good 
fortune to have his designs succeed more to his 

His plans with regard to the teaching of medi- 
cine at the two great English Universities did 
not succeed so well, but that was the fault not of 
Linacre nor of the directions left in his will, but 


of the times, which were awry for educational 
matters. Notwithstanding Linacre's bequest of 
funds for two professorships at Oxford and one 
at Cambridge, it is typical of the times that the 
chairs were not founded for many years. Dur- 
ing Henry VIII's time, the great effort of gov- 
ernment was not to encourage new foundations 
but to break up old ones, in order to obtain 
money for the royal treasury, so that educational 
institutions of all kinds suffered eclipse. The 
first formal action with regard to the Linacre be- 
quest was taken in the third year of Edward VI. 
Two lectureships were established in Merton Col- 
lege, Oxford, and one in St. John's College, 
Cambridge. Linacre's idea had been that these 
foundations should be University lectureships, 
but Anthony Wood says that the University had 
lost in prestige so much during Henry VIII's 
time that it was considered preferable to attach 
the lectureships to Merton College, which had 
considerable reputation because of its medical 
school. During Elizabeth's time these Linacre 
lectureships sank to be sinecures and for nearly 
a hundred years served but for the support of a 
fellowship. The Oxford foundation was revived 
in 1856 by the University Commissioners, and 
the present splendid foundation of the lectures in 
physiology bears Linacre's name in honor of his 
original grant. 

At the age of about fifty Linacre was ordained 
priest. His idea in becoming a clergyman, as 
confessed in letters to his friends, was partly in 

linacre: scholar, physician, priest 103 

order to obtain leisure for his favorite studies, 
but also out of the desire to give himself up to 
something other than the mere worldly pursuits 
in which he had been occupied during all his pre- 
vious life. His biographer, Dr. Johnson, says: 
" In examining the motives of this choice of 
Linacre's, it would seem that he was guided less 
by the expectation of dignity and preferment 
than by the desire of retirement and of rendering 
himself acquainted with those writings which 
might afford him consolation in old age and re- 
lief from the infirmities which a life of assiduous 
study and application had tended to produce." 

The precise time of Linacre's ordination is not 
known, nor is it certain whether he was ordained 
by Archbishop Warham of Canterbury, or by 
Cardinal Wolsey, the Archbishop of York. He 
received his first clerical appointment from War- 
ham, by whom he was collated to the rectory of 
Mersham in Kent. He held this place scarcely 
a month, but his resignation was followed by his 
installation as prebend in the Cathedral of Wells, 
and by an admission to the Church of Hawkhurst 
in Kent, which he held until the year of his death. 
Seven years later he was made prebend in the 
Collegiate Chapel of St. Stephen, Westminster, 
and in the following year he became prebendary 
of South Newbold in the Church of York. This 
was in the year 15 18. In the following year he 
received the dignified and lucrative appointment 
of presentor to the Cathedral of York, for which 
he was indebted to Cardinal Wolsey, to whom 


about this time he dedicated his translation of 
Galen " On the Use of the Pulse." He seems 
also to have held several other benefices during 
the later years of his life, although some of them 
were resigned within so short a time as to make 
it difficult to understand why he should have 
accepted them, since the expenses of institution 
must have exceeded the profits which were de- 
rived from them during the period of possession. 

Linacre owed his clerical opportunities during 
the last years of his life particularly to Arch- 
bishop Warham, who, as ambassador, primate, 
and chancellor, occupied a large and honorable 
place in the history of the times. Erasmus says 
of him in one of his letters : " Such were his 
vigilance and attention in all matters relating to 
religion and to the offices of the Church that no 
concern which was foreign to them seemed ever 
to distract him. He had sufficient time for a 
scrupulous performance of the accustomed exer- 
cises of prayer, for the almost daily celebration 
of the Mass, for twice or thrice hearing divine 
service, for determining suits, for receiving em- 
bassies, for consultation with the king when 
matters of moment required his presence, for 
the vistation of churches when regulation was 
needed, for the welcome of frequently two hund- 
dred guests, and lastly for a literary leisure." 

As the close friend of such men, it is evident 
that Linacre must have accomplished much good 
as a clergyman; and it seems not unlikely that 
his frequent changes of rectorship were rather 

linacre: scholar, physician, priest 105 

due to the fact that the Primate wished to make 
use of his influence in various parts of his dio- 
cese for the benefit of religion than for any per- 
sonal motives on Linacre's part, who, in order 
to enter the service of the Church, had given up 
so much more than he could expect as a clergy- 

Linacre as a clergyman continued to deserve 
the goodwill and esteem of all his former friends, 
and seems to have made many new ones. At the 
time of his death he was one of the most honored 
individuals in England. All of his biographers 
are agreed in stating that he was the representa- 
tive Englishman of his time, looked up to by all 
his contemporaries, respected and admired by 
those who had not the opportunity of his inti- 
mate acquaintance, and heartily loved by friends, 
who were themselves some of the best men of 
the time. 

The concluding paragraph of the appreciation 
of Linacre's character in Lives of British 
Physicians x is as follows : " To sum up his 
character it was said of him that no Englishman 
of his day had had such famous masters, namely, 
Demetrius and Politian of Florence ; such noble 
patrons, Lorenzo de' Medici, Henry VII and 
Henry VIII ; such high-born scholars, the Prince 
Arthur and Princess Mary of England; or such 
learned friends, for amongst the latter were to 
be enumerated Erasmus, Melanchthon, Latimer, 

1 London : John Murray, 1830. 


Tonstal, and Sir Thomas More." His biog- 
rapher might have added the names of others of 
the ore-Reformation period, men of culture and 
character whose merits only the historical re- 
searches of recent years have brought out — Prior 
Selling, Dean Colet (though his friendship was 
unfortunately interrupted), Archbishop Warham, 
Cardinal Wolsey, Grocyn, and further scholars 
and churchmen. 

Dr. J. F. Payne, in summing up the opinion 
of Linacre held by his contemporaries, in the 
"Dictionary of National Biography" (British), 
pays a high tribute to the man. " Linacre's per- 
sonal character was highly esteemed by his con- 
temporaries'. He was evidently capable of abso- 
lute devotion to a great cause, animated by 
genuine public spirit and a boundless zeal for 
learning." Erasmus sketches him humorously in 
the " Encomium Moriae " (The Praise of Fool- 
ishness) — with a play on the word Moriae in 
reference to his great friend, Thomas More, of 
whom Erasmus thought so much — showing him 
a tireless student. The distinguished foreign 
scholar, however, considered Linacre as an en- 
thusiast in recondite studies, but no mere pedant. 
Dr. Payne closes his appreciation with these 
words : " Linacre had, it would seem, no ene- 

Caius, the distinguished English physician and 
scholar, himself one of the best known members 
of the Royal College of Physicians and the 
founder of Caius College, Cambridge, sketches 

linacre: scholar, physician, priest 107 

Linacre's character (he had as a young man 
known him personally) in very sympathetic vein. 
As Dr. Caius was one of the greatest English- 
men of his time in the middle of the sixteenth 
century, his opinion must carry great weight. It 
is to him that we owe the famous epitaph that 
for long in old St. Paul's, London, was to be 
read on Linacre's tombstone: — 

" Fraudes dolosque mire perosus, fidus amicis, 
omnibus ordinibus juxta carus. A stern hater of 
deceit and underhand ways, faithful to his 
friends, equally dear to ail classes." 

Surely this is a worthy tribute to the great 
physician, clergyman, scholar, and philanthropist 
of the eve of the Reformation in England. 





OPORTET autem neque recenti- 
ores viros in his fraudare quae 
vel repererunt vel recte secuti sunt; 
et tamen ea quae apud antiquiores 
aliquos posita sunt auctoribus suis 
reddere. — Celsus de Medidna. 




EXCEPT in the minds of the unconquerably 
intolerant, the Galileo controversy has in 
recent years settled down to occupy something of 
its proper place in the history of the supposed 
conflict between religion and science. In touch- 
ing the subject in the life of Copernicus we sug- 
gested that it has come to be generally recog- 
niezd, as M. Bertrand, the perpetual Secretary of 
the Paris Academy of Sciences, himself a dis- 
tinguished mathematician and historian, declares, 
that " the great lesson for those who would wish 
to oppose reason with violence was clearly to be 
read in Galileo's story, and the scandal of his 
condemnation was learned without any profound 
sorrow to Galileo himself ; and his long life, con- 
sidered as a whole, was the most serene and en- 
viable in the history of science." Somehow, not- 
withstanding the directness of this declara- 
tion, there is still left in the minds of many 
an impression rather difficult to eradicate that 
there was definite, persistent opposition to every- 
thing associated with scientific progress among 
the churchmen of the time of Galileo. 

Perhaps no better answer to this unfortunate, 
because absolutely untrue, impression could be 



formulated than is to be found in a sketch of the 
career of Father Athanasius Kircher, the distin- 
guished Jesuit who for so many years occupied 
himself with nearly every branch of science in 
Rome, under the fostering care of the Church. 
He had been Professor of Physics, Mathematics, 
and Oriental Languages at Wiirzburg, but was 
driven from there by the disturbances incident to 
the Thirty Years' War, in 163 1. He continued 
his scientific investigation at Avignon. From 
here, within two years after Galileo's trial in 
1635, he was, through the influence of Cardinal 
Barberini, summoned to Rome, where he devoted 
himself to mathematics at first, and then to every 
branch of science, as well as the Oriental lan- 
guages, not only with the approval, but also with 
the most liberal pecuniary aid from the ecclesias- 
tical authorities of the papal court and city. 

Some idea of the breadth of Father Kircher's 
scientific sympathy and his genius for scientific 
observation and discovery, which amounted al- 
most to intuition, may be gathered from the fact 
that to him we owe the first definite statement of 
the germ theory of disease ; and he seems to have 
been the first to recognize the presence of what 
are now called microbes. At the same time his 
works on magnetism contained not only all the 
knowledge of his own time, but also some won- 
derful suggestions as to the possibilities of the 
development of this science. His studies with 
regard to light are almost as epochal as those 
with regard to magnetism. Besides these, he 


was the first to find any clue to the Egyptian 
hieroglyphics, and yet found time to write a geo- 
graphical work on Latium, the country surround- 
ing Rome, and to make collections for his museum 
which rendered it in its time the best scientific 
collection in the world. It may very well indeed 
be said that visitors to Rome with scientific ten- 
dencies found as much that was suggestive in 
Father Kircher's museum — the " Kircherianum," 
as it came to be called — as artists and sculptors 
and architects found in the Vatican collections of 
the papal city. 

All of this work was accomplished within the 
half century after Galileo's trial, for Father Kir- 
cher died in 1680, at the age of seventy-eight, 
having lived, as so many of the great scientists 
have done, a long life in the midst of the most 
persistent activity. Kircher, more than perhaps 
any other, can be said to be the founder of mod- 
ern natural science. Before any one else, in a 
practical way, he realized the necessity for the 
collection of an immense amount of data, if 
science was to be founded on the broad, firm 
foundation of observed truth. The principle 
which had been announced by Bacon in the 
" Novum Organon " — " to take all that comes 
rather than to choose, and to heap up rather than 
to register " — was never carried out as fully as 
by Father Kircher. As Edmund Gosse said in 
the June number of Harper's, 1904, " Bacon 
had started a great idea, but he had not carried 
it out. He is not the founder, he is the prophet 


of modern physical science. To be in direct 
touch with nature, to adventure in the unexplored 
fields of knowledge, and to do this by carrying 
out an endless course of slow and sure experi- 
ments, this was the counsel of the ' Novum Or- 
ganon.' " Bacon died in 1626, and scarcely more 
than a decade had passed before Kircher was 
carrying out the work thus outlined by the Eng- 
lish philosopher in a way that was surprisingly 
successful, even looked at from the standpoint of 
our modern science. Needless to say, however, it 
was not because of Bacon's suggestion that he 
did so, for it is more than doubtful whether 
he knew of Bacon's writings until long after 
the lines of his life-work had been traced by his 
own inquiring spirit. The fulness of time had 
come. The inductive philosophy was in the air. 
Bacon's formulae, which the English philosopher 
never practically applied, and Father Kircher's 
assiduous collection of data, were but expressions 
of the spirit of the times. How faithfully the 
work of the first modern inductive scientist was 
accomplished we shall see. 

It may be easily imagined that a certain inter- 
est in Father Kircher, apart from his scientific 
attainments and the desire to show how much 
and how successful was the attention given to 
natural science by churchmen about the time of 
the Galileo controversy, might influence this judg- 
ment of the distinguished Jesuit's scientific accom- 
plishments. With regard to his discoveries in 
medicine especially, and above all his announce- 


ment of the microbic origin of contagious disease, 
it may be thought that this was a mere chance 
expression and not at all the result of serious 
scientific conclusions. Tyndall, however, the dis- 
tinguished English physicist, would not be the 
one to give credit for scientific discoveries, and 
to a clergyman in a distant century, unless there 
was definite evidence of the discovery. It is not 
generally known that to the great English physi- 
cist we owe the almost absolute demonstration of 
the impossibility of spontaneous generation, to- 
gether with a series of studies showing the exist- 
ence everywhere in the atmosphere of minute 
forms of life to which fermentative changes and 
also the infectious diseases — though at that time 
this was only a probability — are to be attributed. 
When Tyndall was reviewing, in the midst of the 
controversy over spontaneous generation, the 
question of the microbic origin of disease, he 
said : " Side by side with many other theories has 
run the germ theory of epidemic disease. The 
notion was expressed by Kircher and favored by 
Linnaeus, that epidemic diseases may be due to 
germs which enter the body and produce dis- 
turbance by the development within the body of 
parasitic forms of life." 

How much attention Father Kircher's book on 
the pest or plague, in which his theory of the 
micro-organismal origin of disease is put for- 
ward, attracted from the medical profession can 
t>e understood from the fact that it was submitted 
to three of the most distinguished physicians in 


Rome before being printed, and that their testi- 
mony to its value as a contribution to medicine 
prefaced the first edition. They are not sparing 
in their praise of it. Dr. Joseph Benedict Sini- 
baldus, who was the Professor of the Practice of 
Medicine in the Roman University at the time, 
says that " Father Kircher's book not only con- 
tains an excellent resume of all that is known 
about the pest or plague, but also as many val- 
uable hints and suggestions on the origin and 
spread of the disease, which had never before 
been made." He considers it a very wonderful 
thing that a non-medical man should have been 
able to place himself so thoroughly in touch with 
the present state of medicine in respect to this 
disease and then point out the conditions of 
future progress. 

Dr. Paul Zachias, who was a distinguished 
Roman physician of the time, said that he had 
long known Father Kircher as an eminent writer 
on other subjects, but that after reading his book 
on the pest he must consider him also distin- 
guished in medical writing. He says : " While 
he has set his hand at other's harvests, he has 
done it with so much wisdom and prudence as to 
win the admiration of the harvesters already in 
the field." He adds that there can be no doubt 
that it would be a source of profit for medical 
men to read this little book and that it will un- 
doubtedly prove beneficial to future generations. 

Testimony of another kind to the value of 
Father Kircher's book is to be found in the fact 


that within a half-year after its publication in 
Latin it appeared in several other languages. It 
is too much the custom of these modern times to 
consider that scientific progress in the centuries 
before our own and its immediate predecessor 
was likely to attract little attention for many 
years, and was especially slow to make its way 
into foreign countries. Anything, however, of 
real importance in science took but a very short 
time to travel from one country to another in 
Europe in the seventeenth century, and the fact 
that scientific men generally used Latin as a com- 
mon language made the spread of discoveries and 
speculations much easier even than at the present 
time. Our increased means of communication 
have really only served to allow sensational an- 
nouncements of a progress in science — which is 
usually no progress at all — to be spread quite as 
effectually in modern times as were real advances 
in the older days. 

There is no good account of Father Kircher's 
life available in English, and it has seemed only 
proper that the more important at least of the 
details of the life of the man who thus anticipated 
the beginnings of modern bacteriology and of the 
relations of micro-organisms to disease, should 
not be left in obscurity. His life history is all the 
more interesting and important because it illus- 
trates the interest of the churchmen of the time, 
and especially of the Roman ecclesiastical author- 
ities, in all forms of science ; for Father Kircher 
is undoubtedly one of the greatest scholars of his- 


tory and one of the scientific geniuses in whose 
works can be found, as the result of some won- 
derful principles of intuition incomprehensible to 
the slower intellectual operations of ordinary 
men, anticipations of many of the discoveries of 
the after-time. There is scarcely a modern 
science he did not touch upon, and nothing that 
he touched did he fail to illuminate. His mag- 
nificent collections in the museum of the Roman 
College demonstrate very well his extremely wide 
interests in all scientific matters. 

The history of Father Kircher's career fur- 
nishes perhaps the best possible refutation of the 
oft-repeated slander that Jesuit education was 
narrow and was so founded upon and rooted in 
authority that original research and investigation, 
in scientific matters particularly, were impossible, 
and that it utterly failed to encourage new dis- 
coveries of any kind. As a matter of fact, Kir- 
cher was not only not hampered in his work by 
his superiors or by the ecclesiastical authorities, 
but the respect in which he was held at Rome 
enabled him to use the influence of the Church 
and of great churchmen all over the world, with 
the best possible effect, for the assembling at the 
Roman College of objects of the most various 
kinds, illustrating especially the modern sciences 
of archeology, ethnology, and paleontology, be- 
sides Egyptian and Assyrian history. 

Athanasius Kircher was born 2 May, 1602, at 
Geisa, near Fulda, in South Germany. He was 
educated at the Jesuit College of Fulda, and at 


the early age of sixteen, having completed his 
college course, entered the Jesuit novitiate at 
Mainz. After his novitiate he continued his phil- 
osophical and classical studies at Paderborn and 
completed his years of scholastic teaching in vari- 
ous cities of South Germany — Munster, Cologne, 
and Coblenz — finally finishing his education by 
theological studies at Cologne and Mainz. 

Toward the end of the third decade of the 
seventeenth century he became Professor of Phil- 
osophy and Mathematics at Wiirzburg. Here his 
interest in Oriental languages began, and he 
established a special course in this subject at the 
University of Wiirzburg. During the Thirty 
Years' War, however, the invasion of Germany 
very seriously disturbed university work, and fin- 
ally in 1 63 1 Father Kircher was sent by his 
superiors to Avignon in South France, where he 
continued his teaching some four years, attract- 
ing no little attention by his wide interest in 
many sciences and by various scientific works that 
showed him to be a man of very broad genius. 

In 1635, through the influence of Cardinal Bar- 
berini, he was summoned to Rome, where he be- 
came Professor of Mathematics and Oriental 
Languages in the famous Roman College of the 
Jesuits, which was considered at that time one of 
the greatest educational institutions in the world. 
His interest in science, however, was not lessened 
by teaching duties that would apparently have 
demanded all his time ; and, as we shall see, he 
continued to issue books on the most diverse 


scientific subjects, most of them illustrated by 
absolutely new experimental observations and all 
of them attracting widespread attention. 

Father Kircher began his career as a writer 
on science at the early age of twenty-seven, when 
he issued his first work on magnetism. The title 
of this volume, "Ars Magnesia turn Theorema- 
tice turn Problematice Proposita," shows that the 
subject was not treated entirely from a specula- 
tive standpoint. Indeed, in the preface he states 
that he hopes that the principal value of the book 
will be found in the fact that the knowledge of 
magnetism is presented by a new method, with 
special demonstrations, and that the conclusions 
are confirmed by various practical uses and long- 
continued experience with magnets of various 

Although it may be a source of great surprise, 
Father Kircher's genius was essentially experi- 
mental. He has been spoken of not infrequently 
as a man who collected the scientific information 
of his time in such a way as to display, as 
says the Encyclopaedia Britannica, " a wide and 
varied learning, but that he was a man singularly 
devoid of judgment and critical discernment." 
He was in some respects the direct opposite of the 
opinion thus expressed, since his learning was 
always of a practical character, and there are very 
few subjects in this writing which he has not him- 
self illustrated by means of new and ingenious 

Perhaps the best possible proof of this is to be 


found in the fact that his second scientific work 
was on the construction of sun-dials, and that one 
of the discoveries he himself considered most val- 
uable was the invention of a calculating machine, 
as well as of a complicated arrangement for illus- 
trating the positions of the stars in the heavens. 
He constructed, moreover, a large burning-glass 
in order to demonstrate the possibility of the story 
told of Archimedes, that he had succeeded in 
burning the enemy's ships in the harbor at Syra- 
cuse by means of a large lens. 

But Father Kircher's surest claim to being a 
practical genius is to be found in his invention of 
the magic lantern. It was another Jesuit, Aqui- 
lonius, in his work on optics, issued in 1613, who 
had first sought to explain how the two pictures 
presented to the two eyes are fused into one, and 
it was in a practical demonstration of this by 
means of lenses that Kircher hit upon the inven- 
tion of the projecting stereoscope. 

After his call to Rome our subject continued 
his work on magnetism, and in 1641 issued a fur- 
ther treatise on the subject called " Magnes " or 
" De Arte Magnetica." While he continued to 
teach Oriental languages and issued in 1644 a 
book with the title " Lingua ^Egyptiaca Resti- 
tuta," he also continued to apply himself especially 
to the development of physical science. Accord- 
ingly in 1645 there appeared his volume "Ars 
Magna Lucis et Umbrae." This was a treatise 
on light, illustrated, as was his treatise on mag- 
netism, by many original experiments and demon- 


During the five years until 1650 the depart- 
ment of acoustics came under his consideration, 
so that in that year we have from his pen a treat- 
ise called " Musurgia Universalis," with the sub- 
title, " The Art of Harmony and Discord ; a 
treatise on the whole doctrine of sound with the 
philosophy of music treated from the standpoint 
of practical as well as theoretic science." Dur- 
ing the next five years astronomy was his special 
hobby, and the result was in 1656 a treatise on 
astronomy called " Iter Celeste." This contained 
a description of the earth and the heavens and 
discussed the nature of the fixed and moving 
stars, with various considerations as to the com- 
position and structure of these bodies. A second 
volume on this subject appeared in 1660. 

The variety of Father Kircher's interests in 
science was not yet exhausted, however. Five 
years after the completion of his two volumes on 
astronomy there came one on " Mundus Subter- 
raneus." This treated of the modern subjects of 
geology, metallurgy, and mineralogy, as well as 
the chemistry of minerals. It also contained a 
treatise on animals that live under the ground, 
and on insects. This was considered one of the 
author's greatest books, and the whole of it 
was translated into French, whilst abstracts from 
it, especially the chapters on poisons, appeared in 
most of the other languages of Europe. Part of 
it was translated even into English, though seven- 
teenth-century Englishmen were loath to draw 
their inspiration from Jesuit writers. 


Jesuits were, however, at this time generally 
acknowledged on the Continent to be leaders in 
every department of thought, sympathetic coad- 
jutors in every step in scientific progress. Strange 
as it may appear to those who will not understand 
the Jesuit spirit of love for learning, two of the 
most distinguished scientists whose names are 
immortal in the history of physical sciences in dif- 
fent departments during this century, Kepler and 
Harvey, were on intimate terms of friendship 
with the Jesuits of Germany. Harvey, on the 
occasion of a visit to the Continent, stopped for 
a prolonged visit with the Jesuits at Cologne, so 
that some of his English friends joked him about 
the possibility of his making converts of the 
Jesuits. These witticisms, however, did not seem 
to distract Harvey very much, for he returned on 
a subsequent occasion to spend some further days 
with his Jesuit scientific friends along the Rhine. 

In the meantime Father Kircher was issuing 
notable books on his always favorite subject of 
the Oriental languages. In 1650 there appeared 
" Obeliscus Pamphilius," containing an explana- 
tion of the hieroglyphics to be found on the obe- 
lisk which by the order of Innocent X, a member 
of the Pamfili family, was placed in the Piazza 
Navona by Bernini. This is no mere pamphlet, 
as might be thought, but a book of 560 pages. 
In 1652 there appeared " CEdipus iEgyptiacus," 
that is. the revealer of the sphinx-like riddle of 
the Egyptian ancient languages. In 1653 a sec- 
ond volume of this appeared, and in 1655 a third 


volume. It was considered so important that it 
was translated into Russian and other Slav lan- 
guages, besides several other European lan- 
guages. His book, " Lingua ^Egyptiaca Resti- 
tuta," which appeared in 1644, when Kircher was 
forty-two years of age, is considered to be of 
value yet in the study of Oriental languages, and 
was dedicated to the patron, Emperor Ferdinand 
III, whose liberality made its publication possible. 

It is often a subject for conjecture just how 
science was studied and taught in centuries be- 
fore the nineteenth, and just what text-books 
were employed. A little familiarity with Father 
Kircher's publications, however, will show that 
there was plenty of very suitable material for 
text-books to be found in his works. Under his 
own direction, what at the present time would be 
called a text-book of physics, but which at that 
time was called " Physiologia Experimentalis," 
was issued, containing all the experimental and 
demonstrative parts of his various books on chem- 
istry, physics, music, magnetism, and mechanics, 
as well as acoustics and optics. This formed the 
groundwork of most text-books of science for a 
full century afterwards. Indeed, until the be- 
ginning of the distinctly modern science of chem- 
istry with the discoveries of Priestley and Lavoi- 
sier, there was to be little added of serious im- 
port in science. 

Perhaps the most commendable feature of 
Father Kircher's books is the fact that he him- 
self seems never to have considered that he had 


exhausted a subject. The first work he published 
was on magnetism. Some twelve years later he 
returned to the subject, and wrote a more exten- 
sive work, containing many improvements over 
the first volume. The same thing is true of his 
studies in sound. In 1650, when not quite fifty 
years of age, he issued his " Musurgia Univer- 
salis," a sub-title of which stated that it contains 
the whole doctrine of sound and the practical and 
theoretical philosophy of music. A little over 
twenty years later, however, he published the 
"Phonurgia Nova," the sub-title of which showed 
that it was mainly concerned with the experi- 
mental demonstration of various truths in acous- 
tics and with the development of the doctrine he 
had originally stated in the " Musurgia." 

It is no wonder that his contemporaries spoke 
of him as the Doctor centum artium — the teacher 
of a hundred arts — for there was practically no 
branch of scientific knowledge in his time in 
which he was not expert. Scientific visitors to 
Rome always considered it one of the privileges 
of their stay in the papal city to have the oppor- 
tunity to meet Father Kircher, and it was thought 
a very great honor to be shown through his 
museum by himself. 

Of course, it is difficult for present-day scien- 
tists to imagine a man exhausting the whole 
round of science in this way. Many who have 
read but little more than the titles of Father Kir- 
cher's many books are accordingly prone to speak 
of him as a mine of information, but without any 



proper critical judgment. He has succeeded, ac- 
cording to them, in heaping together an immense 
amount of information, but it is of the most dis- 
parate value. There is no doubt that he took 
account of many things in science that are mani- 
festly absurd. Astrology, for instance, had not, 
in his time, gone out of fashion entirely, and he 
refers many events in men's lives to the influence 
of the stars. He even made rules for astrological 
predictions, and his astronomical machine for 
exhibiting the motions of the stars was also meant 
to be helpful in the construction of astrological 
tables. It must not be forgotten, however, that in 
his time the best astronomers, like Tycho Brahe 
and even Kepler, had not entirely given up the 
idea of the influence of the stars over man's 

As regards other sciences, there are details of 
information that may appear quite as supersti- 
tious as the belief in astrology. Kircher, for in- 
stance, accepted the idea of the possibility of the 
transmutation of metals. It is to be said, though, 
that all mankind were convinced of this possibil- 
ity, and indeed not entirely without reason. All 
during the nineteenth century scientists believed 
very firmly in the absolute independence of chem- 
ical elements and their utter non-interchangeabil- 
ity. As the result of recent discoveries, however, 
in which one element has apparently been ob- 
served giving rise to another, much of this doc- 
trine has come to be considered as improbable, 
and now the idea of possible transmutation of 


metals and other chemical elements into one an- 
other appears not so absurd as it was half a cen- 
tury ago. 

Any one who will take up a text-book of 
science of a century ago will find in it many 
glaring absurdities. It will seem almost impos- 
sible that a scientific thinker, in his right senses, 
could have accepted some of the propositions that 
are calmly set down as absolute truths. Every 
generation has made itself ridiculous by knowing 
many things " that are not so," and even ours is 
no exception. Father Kircher was not outside 
this rule, though he was ahead of his generation 
in the critical faculty that enabled him to elim- 
inate many falsities and to illuminate half-truths 
in the science of his day. 

Undoubtedly the most interesting of Father 
Kircher's scientific books is his work On the Pest, 
with some considerations on its origin, mode of 
distribution, and treatment, which about the 
middle of the seventeenth century gathered to- 
gether all the medical theories of the times as to 
the causation of contagious disease, discussed 
them with critical judgment and reached conclu- 
sions which anticipate much of what is most mod- 
ern in our present-day medicine. It is this work 
of Father Kircher's that is now most often re- 
ferred to, and very deservedly so, because it is 
one of the classics which represents a landmark 
in knowledge for all time. It merits a place 
beside such books as Harvey on the Circulation 
of Blood, or even Vesalius on Human Anat- 


omy. As we have seen, it is now quoted from 
by our best recent authorities who attempt seri- 
ously to trace the history of the microbic theory 
of disease, and its conclusions are the result of 
logical processes and not the mere chance light- 
ing upon truth of a mind that had the theories of 
the time before it. In it Father Kircher's genius 
is best exhibited. It has the faults of his too 
ready credibility; and his desire to discuss all 
possible phases of the question, even those which 
are now manifestly absurd, has led him into what 
prove to be useless digressions. But on the whole 
it represents very well the first great example of 
the application of the principle of inductive 
science to modern medicine. All the known facts 
and observations are collected and discussed, and 
then the conclusions are suggested. 

It is very interesting to trace the development 
of Father Kircher's ideas with regard to the 
origin, causation, and communication of disease, 
because in many points he so clearly anticipates 
medical knowledge that has only come to be defi- 
nitely accepted in very recent times. It has often 
been pointed out that Sir Robert Boyle declared 
that the processes of fermentation and those 
which brought about infectious disease, were 
probably of similar nature, and that the scientist 
who solved the problem of the cause of fermenta- 
tion would throw great light on the origin of 
these diseases. This prophetic remark was abso- 
lutely verified when Pasteur, a chemist who had 
solved the problem of fermentation, also solved 


the weightier questions connected with human 
diseases. Before even Boyle, however, Father 
Kircher had expressed his opinion that disease 
processes were similar to those of putrefaction. 
He considered that putrefaction was due to the 
presence of certain corpuscula, as he called them, 
and these he said were also probably active in the 
causation of infectious disease. 

He was not sure whether or not these corpus- 
cula were living, in the sense that they, could 
multiply of themselves. He considered, however, 
that this was very probable. As to their distri- 
bution, he is especially happy in his anticipations 
of modern medical progress. While he consid- 
ered it very possible that they were carried 
through the air, he gives it as his deliberate 
opinion that living things were the most frequent 
agents for the distribution of the corpuscles of 
disease. He is sure that they are carried by flies, 
for instance, and that they may be inoculated by 
the stings of such insects as fleas or mosquitoes. 
He even gives some examples that he knew of in 
which this was demonstrated. Still more strik- 
ing is his insistence on the fact that such a con- 
tagious disease as pest may be carried by cats and 
dogs and other domestic animals. The cat seemed 
to him to be associated with special danger in this 
matter, and he gives an example of a nunnery 
which had carefully protected itself against pos- 
sible infection, but had allowed a cat to come in, 
with the result that some cases of the disease de- 


An interesting bit of discussion is to be found 
in the chapter in which Father Kircher takes up 
the consideration of the problem whether infec- 
tious disease can ever be produced by the imag- 
ination. He is speaking particularly of the pest, 
but there is more than a suspicion that under the 
name pest came at times of epidemics many of 
our modern contagious diseases. Father Kircher 
says that there is no doubt that worry plays an 
important role in predisposing persons to take the 
disease. He does not consider, however, that it 
can originate of itself, or be engendered in the 
person without contact with some previous case 
of pest. With regard to the question of predis- 
position he is very modern. He points out that 
many persons do not take the disease, because 
evidently of some protective quality which they 
possess. He is sure, too, that the best possible 
protection comes from keeping in good, general 

A curious suggestion is that with regard to the 
grave-diggers and undertakers. It has often 
been noted in Italy, so Father Kircher asserts, 
that these individuals as a rule did not succumb to 
the disease, notwithstanding their extreme expo- 
sure, when the majority of the population were 
suffering from it. Toward the end of the epi- 
demic, however, at the time when the towns- 
people were beginning to rejoice over its prac- 
tical disappearance, it was not unusual to have 
these caretakers of the dead brought down with 
the disease — often, too, in fatal form. Father 


Kircher considers that only strong and healthy 
individuals would take up such an occupation. 
That the satisfaction of accomplishing a large 
amount of work and making money kept them in 
good health. Later on, however, as the result of 
overwork during the time of the epidemic and 
also of discouragement because they saw the end 
of prosperous times for them, they became predis- 
posed to the disease and then fell victims. 

With regard to the prevention of the pest in 
individual cases, Father Kircher has some very 
sensible remarks. He says that physicians as a 
rule depend on certain medicinal protectives or 
on amulets which they carry. The amulets he 
considers to be merely superstitious. The sweet- 
smelling substances that are sometimes employed 
are probably without any preventive action. Cer- 
tain physicians employed a prophylactic remedy 
made up of very many substances. This is what 
in modern days we would be apt to call a " gun- 
shot prescription." It contained so many ingre- 
dients that it was hoped that some one of them 
would hit the right spot and prove effective. 
Father Kircher has another name for it. We do 
not know whether it is original with him, but in 
any case it is worth while remembering. He 
calls it a " calendar prescription," because when 
written it resembled a list of the days of the 

His opinion of this " calendar prescription " is 
not very high. It seems to him that if one ingre- 
dient did good, most of the others would be 


almost as sure to do harm. The main factor in 
prophylaxis to his mind was to keep in normal 
health, and this seemed not quite compatible with 
frequent recourse to a prescription containing so 
many drugs that were almost sure to have no 
good effect and might have an ill effect. It is all 
the more interesting to find these common-sense 
views because ordinarily Father Kircher is set 
down as one who accepted most of the traditions 
of his time without inquiring very deeply into 
their origin or truth, simply reporting them out 
of the fulness of his rather pedantic information. 
In most cases it will be found, however, that, like 
Herodotus, reporting the curious things that had 
been told him in his travels, he is very careful to 
state what are his own opinions and what he 
owes to others and gives place to, though without 
attaching much credence to them. 

It must not be forgotten that his great con- 
temporaries, Von Helmont and Paracelsus, were 
not free from many of the curious scientific super- 
stitions of their time, though they had, like him, 
in many respects the true scientific spirit. Von 
Helmont, for instance, was a firm believer in the 
doctrine of spontaneous generation, and even 
went so far as to consider that it had its appli- 
cation to animals of rather high order. For in- 
stance, one of his works contains a rather fam- 
ous prescription to bring about the spontaneous 
generation of mice. What was needed was a jar 
of meal kept in a dark corner covered by some 
soiled linen. After three weeks these elements 


would be found to have bred mice. Too much 
must not be expected, then, of Kircher in the 
matter of crediting supposedly scientific tradi- 

It may seem surprising that Father Kircher's 
book did not produce a greater impression upon 
the medical research work and teaching of the 
day and lead to an earlier development of mic- 
robology. Unfortunately, however, the instru- 
ments of precision necessary for such a study 
were not then at hand, and the gradual loss of 
prestige of the book is therefore readily to be 
understood. The explanation of this delay in the 
development of science is very well put by Crook- 
shank, who is the professor of comparative path- 
ology and bacteriology at King's College, Lon- 
don, and one of the acknowledged authorities on 
these subjects in the medical world. Professor 
Crookshank says, at the beginning of the first 
chapter of his text-book on bacteriology, in which 
he traces the origin of the science, that the first 
attempt to demonstrate the existence of the con- 
tagium vivum dates back almost to the discovery 
of the microscope x : — 

Athanasius Kircher nearly two and a half centuries 
ago expressed his belief that there were definite micro- 
organisms to which diseases were attributable. The 
microscope had revealed that all decomposing sub- 

1 A Text-Book of Bacteriology. Including the Eti- 
ology and Prevention of Infectious Diseases. By Edgar 
M. Crookshank. Fourth Edition. London, 1896. 


stances swarmed with countless micro-organisms which 
were invisible to the naked eye, and Kircher sought for 
similar organisms in disease, which he considered might 
be due to their agency. The microscopes which he de- 
scribes obviously could not admit of the possibility of 
studying or even detecting the micro-organisms which 
are now known to be associated with certain diseases ; 
and it is not surprising that his teaching did not at the 
time gain much attention. They were destined, how- 
ever, to receive a great impetus from the discoveries 
which emanated not long after from the father of 
microscopy, Leeuwenhoek. 

This reference to Kircher's work, however, 
shows that more cordial appreciation of his scien- 
tific genius has come in our day, and it seems not 
unlikely that in the progress *of more accurate 
and detailed knowledge of scientific origins his 
reputation will grow as it deserves. With that 
doubtless will come a better understanding of the 
true attitude of the scholars of the time — so many 
of whom were churchmen — to so-called physical 
science in contradistinction to philosophy, in 
which of course they had always been profoundly 
interested. The work done by Kircher could 
never have been accomplished but for the sym- 
pathetic interest of those who are falsely sup- 
posed to have been bitterly opposed to all prog- 
ress in the natural sciences, but whose opposition 
was really limited to theoretic phases of scien- 
tific inquiry that threatened, as has scientific 
theory so often since, to prove directly contra- 
dictory to revealed truth. 



God makes sages and saints that 
they may be fountain-heads of 
wisdom and virtue for all who yearn 
and aspire: and whoever has supe- 
rior knowledge or ability is thereby 
committed to more effectual and un- 
selfish service of his fellow-men. If 
the love of fame be but an infirmity 
of noble souls, the craving of profes- 
sional reputation is but conceit and 
vanity. To be of help, and to be of 
help not merely to animals, but to 
immortal, pure, loving spirits — this 
is the noblest earthly fate. — Bishop 
Spalding: The Physician s Calling 
and Education. 




IN the sketch of the life of Father Athanasius 
Kircher, the distinguished Jesuit scientist, 
mathematician, and Orientalist, I called attention 
to the fact that, at the very time when Galileo 
was tried and condemned at Rome, because of 
his abuse of Scripture for the demonstration of 
scientific thesis, a condemnation which has been 
often since proclaimed to be due to the Church's 
intolerant opposition to science, the ecclesiastical 
authorities at Rome invited Father Kircher, who 
was at that time teaching mathematics in Ger- 
many, to come to Rome, and during the next half- 
century encouraged him in every way in the cul- 
tivation of all the physical sciences of the times. 
It was to popes and cardinals, as well as to in- 
fluential members of his own order of the Jesuits, 
that Father Kircher owed his opportunities for 
the foundation of a complete and magnificent 
museum, illustrating many phases of natural 
science — -the first of its kind in the world, and 
which yet continues to be one of the noteworthy 

During the decade in which the condemnation 
of Galileo and the invitation of Father Kircher 
to Rome took place, there was born, at Copen- 



hagen, a man whose career of distinction in 
science was to prove even more effectively than 
that of Kircher, if possible, that there was no 
opposition in ecclesiastical circles in Italy, dur- 
ing this century, to the development of natural 
science even in departments in respect to which 
the Church has, over and over again, been said to 
be specially intolerant. This scientist was Nich- 
olas Stensen, the discoverer of the duct of the 
parotid gland, which conducts saliva into the 
mouth, and the founder, in the truest sense of the 
word, of the modern science of geology. Sten- 
sen's discovery of the duct which has since borne 
his name was due to no mere accident; for he 
was one of the really great anatomists of 
all time, and one distinguished particularly for 
his powers of original observation and investiga- 
tion. To have the two distinctions, then, of a 
leader in anatomy and a founder in geology, 
stamps him as one of the supreme scientific 
geniuses of all time, a man not only of a fruit- 
fully inquiring disposition of mind, but also one 
who possessed a very definite realization of how 
important for the cause of scientific truth is the 
necessity of testing all ideas with regard to 
things physical, by actual observations of nature 
and by drawing conclusions not wider than the 
observed facts. 

Notwithstanding this characteristically scientific 
temper of mind, which, according to most mod- 
ern ideas, at least, would seem to be sure to lead 
him away from religious truth, Stensen at the 

bishop stensen: anatomist 139 

very height of his career as a scientist, while 
studying anatomy and geology in Italy, became 
a convert from Lutheranism, in which he had 
been born, to Catholicity, and thereafter made it 
one of the prime objects of his life to bring as 
many others as possible of the separated breth- 
ren into the fold of the Church. When he ac- 
cepted the professorship of anatomy at the Uni- 
versity of Copenhagen, it was with the definite 
idea that he might be able to use the influence of 
his position to make people realize how much of 
religious truth there was in the old Church from 
which they had been separated in the preceding 
century. After a time, however, his zeal led him 
to resign his position, and ask to be made a 
priest, in order that he might be able more effec- 
tively to fulfil what he now considered the main 
purpose of his life, the winning of souls to the 
Church. As, since his conversion, he had given 
every evidence of the most sincere piety and 
humble simplicity, his desires were granted. His 
book on geology, however, was partly written 
during the very time when he was preparing for 
sacred orders, and was warmly welcomed by all 
his Catholic friends. After spending some time 
as a missionary, and attracting a great deal of 
attention by his devout life and by the many 
friends and converts he succeeded in making, the 
recently converted Duke of Hanover asked that 
the zealous Danish convert should be made bishop 
of his capital city. This request was imme- 
diately granted, and Stensen spent several years 


in the hardest missionary labor in his new field. 
As a matter of fact, his labors proved too much 
for his rather delicate constitution, and he died at 
the comparatively early age of forty-eight. The 
visitor to the University of Copenhagen marvels 
to find among the portraits of her professors of 
anatomy one in the robes of a Roman Catholic 
bishop. This is Stensen. In 1881, when the 
International Geographical Congress met at 
Bologna, it adjourned at the end of the session to 
Florence to unveil a bust of Stensen, over his 
tomb there. Here evidently is a man whose life 
is well worth studying, because of all that it 
means for the history of his time. 

Nicholas Stensen — or, as he is often called, 
Steno, because this is the Latin form of his name, 
and Latin was practically exclusively used, dur- 
ing his age, in scientific circles all over Europe — 
was born 20 January, 1638, in Copenhagen. His 
father died while he was comparatively young, 
and his mother married again, both her husbands 
being goldsmiths in high repute for their skill, 
and both of them in rather well-to-do circum- 
stances. His early education was obtained at 
Copenhagen, and the results displayed in his 
attainments show how well it must have been 
conducted. Later in life he spoke and wrote 
Latin very fluently and had, besides, a very thor- 
ough knowledge of Greek and of Hebrew. Of 
the modern languages, German, French, Italian, 
and Low Dutch he knew very well, mainly from 
residence in the various countries in which they 


are spoken. A more unusual attainment at that 
time, and one showing the ardor of his thirst for 
knowledge, was an acquaintance with English. 
In early life he was especially fond of mathe- 
matics and, indeed, it was almost by accident that 
this did not become his chosen field of educa- 
tional development. 

At eighteen he became a student of the Uni- 
versity of Copenhagen, and after some prelimi- 
nary studies in philosophy and philology devoted 
himself mainly to medicine. At this time the 
Danish University was especially distinguished 
for its work in anatomy. The famous family of 
Bartholini, who had for several generations been 
teaching there, had proved a copious source of 
inspiration for the students in their department, 
and as a consequence original investigation of a 
high order, with enthusiasm for the development 
of anatomical science, had become the rule. The 
external situation was not favorable to learning, 
for Denmark was engaged in harassing and 
costly wars during a considerable portion of the 
seventeenth century ; yet the work accomplished 
here was, undoubtedly, some of the best in 
Europe. Young Stensen had the advantage of 
having Thomas Bartholini as his preceptor, and 
soon, because of his enthusiasm for science, as 
friend and father. 

Stensen had been at the University scarcely 
two years when the city of Copenhagen was be- 
sieged by the Swedes. Professor Lutz, of the 
University of St. Louis, who has recently written 


an article on Stensen, which appeared in the 
Medical Library and Historical Journal for July, 
1904, says of this period: 

A regiment of students numbering two hundred and 
sixty-six, called " the black coats " on account of their 
dark clothes, was formed for the defence of the city; 
upon its roster we find the name of young Steno. Dur- 
ing the day they were at work mending the ramparts, 
and the nights were spent in repelling the attacks of the 
enemy. In the course of this long siege, the city was 
compelled to cope with a more formidable enemy than 
the Swedes — famine with all its horrors — before relief 
came in the shape of provisions and reinforcements 
furnished by the Dutch fleet. Throughout these tur- 
bulent days the student soldiers rendered valuable 
services to their country, and though it be true that 
" inter arma silent musae " — " the war gods do not 
favor the muses " — it appears nevertheless that Steno 
attended the lectures and dissections which were con- 
ducted by the teachers in the intervals when the stu- 
dents were not on duty. 

After some three years spent at the University 
of Copenhagen, Stensen, as was the custom of 
the times, went to pursue his post-graduate 
studies in a foreign university. Bartholini fur- 
nished him with a letter of recommendation to 
Professor Blasius, who was teaching anatomy at 
Amsterdam in Holland. Amsterdam had be- 
come famous during the seventeenth century for 
the very practical character of its anatomical 
teaching. As the result of the cordial commen- 
dation of Bartholini, Stensen became an inmate 
of the house of Professor Blasius, and was given 


special opportunities to pursue his anatomical 
studies for himself. He had been but a very- 
short time at Amsterdam, when he made the dis- 
covery to which his name has ever since been 
attached, that of the duct of the parotid gland. 
Stensen's discovery was made while he was dis- 
secting the head of a sheep. He found shortly 
afterwards, however, that the canal could be 
demonstrated to exist in the dog, though it was 
not so large a structure. Blasius seems to have 
been rather annoyed at the fact that a student, 
just beginning work with him, should make so 
important a discovery, and wished to claim the 
honor of it for himself. There is no doubt, how- 
ever, now, notwithstanding the discussion over 
the priority of the discovery which took place at 
the time, that Stensen was the first to make this 
important observation. 

Not long before, Wharton, an English observer, 
had demonstrated the existence of a canal lead- 
ing from the submaxillary gland into the mouth. 
This might have been expected to lead to the dis- 
covery of other glandular ducts, but so far had 
not. As a matter of fact, the function of the 
parotid gland was not well understood at this 
time. During the discussion as to priority of 
discovery, Steno pointed out one fact which he 
very properly considers as the most conclusive 
proof that Blasius did not discover the duct of 
the gland. He says : " Blasius shows plainly in 
his treatise ' De Medicina Generali ' that he has 
never sought for the duct, for he does not assign 


to it either the proper point of beginning or end- 
ing, and assigns to the parotid gland itself so un- 
worthy a function as that of furnishing warmth 
to the ear, so that if I were not perfectly sure 
of having once shown him the duct myself, I 
should be tempted to say that he had never 
seen it." 

Bartholini settled the controversy, and at the 
same time removed any discouragement that 
might have arisen in his young pupil's mind, by 
writing to him: — 

Your assiduity in investigating the secrets of the 
human body, as well as your fortunate discoveries, are 
highly praised by the learned of your country. The 
fatherland congratulates itself upon such a citizen, I 
upon such a pupil, through whose efforts anatomy 
makes daily progress, and our lympathic vessels are 
traced out more and more. You divide honors with 
Wharton, since you have added to his internal duct 
an external one, and have thereby discovered the 
sources of the saliva concerning which many have 
hitherto dreamed much, but which no one has (permit 
the expression) pointed out with the finger. Con- 
tinue, my Steno, to follow the path to immortal glory 
which true anatomy holds out to you. 

Under the stimulus of such encouragement, it 
is no wonder that Stensen continued his original 
work with eminent success. He published an ex- 
tensive article on the glands of the eye and the 
vessels of the nose. 

Bartholini wrote to him again : " Your fame 
is growing from day to day, for your pen* and 
your sharp eye know no rest." Later he wrote 


again : " You may count upon the favor of the 
king as well as upon the applause of the learned." 
After three years at the University of Amster- 
dam, Steno returned to Copenhagen, where he 
published his "Anatomical Observations Con- 
cerning the Muscles and Glands." It was in this 
book that he announced his persuasion that the 
heart was a muscle. As he said himself, " the 
heart has been considered the seat of natural 
warmth, the throne of the soul; but if you ex- 
amine it more closely, it turns out to be nothing 
but a muscle. The men of the past would not 
have been so grossly mistaken with regard to it, 
had they not preferred their imaginary theories 
to the results of the simple observation of 
nature." It is easy to understand that this ob- 
servation created a very great sensation. It had 
much to do with overthrowing certain theoretic 
systems of medicine, and nearly a century later 
the distinguished physiologist, Haller, did not 
hesitate to proclaim the volume in which it occurs, 
as a " golden book." 

Stensen's studies in anatomy stamp him as an 
original genius of a high order, and this is all 
the more remarkable because his career occurs 
just in those years when there were distinguished 
discoverers in anatomy in every country in 
Europe. When Stensen began his work in anat- 
omy, Harvey was still alive. The elder Bartho- 
lini, the first who ever established an anatomical 
museum, was another of his contemporaries. 
Among the names of distinguished anatomists 


with whom Stensen was brought intimately in 
contact during the course of his studies in Hol- 
land, France and Italy are those of Swammer- 
dam, Van Home, and Malpighi. There is no 
doubt that his intercourse with such men sharp- 
ened his own intellectual activity, and increased 
his enthusiasm for original investigation in con- 
tradistinction to the mere accumulation of infor- 

His contemporaries, indeed, exhausted most of 
the adjectives of the Latin language in trying to 
express their appreciation of his acuity of ob- 
servation. He was spoken of as oculatissimus — 
that is, as being all eyes, sabtilissimus, acutissi- 
mus, sagacissimus in his knowledge of the human 
body, and as the most perspicacious anatomist of 
the time. Leibnitz and Haller were in accord in 
considering him one of the greatest of anatom- 
ists. In later years this admiration for Stensen's 
genius has not been less enthusiastically ex- 
pressed. Haeser, in his " History of Medicine," 
the third edition of which appeared at Jena in 
1879, sa y s : "Among the greatest anatomists of 
the seventeenth century belongs Nicholas Steno, 
the most distinguished pupil of Thomas Bartho- 
lini. Steno was rightly considered in his own 
time as one of the greatest of anatomical discov- 
erers. There is scarcely any part of the human 
body the knowledge of which was not rendered 
more complete by his investigations." 

The most valuable discovery made by Stensen 
was undoubtedly that the heart is a muscle. It 


must not be forgotten that in his time, Harvey's 
discovery of the circulation of the blood was not 
yet generally accepted; indeed, there were many 
who considered the theory (as they called it) of 
the English investigator as one of the passing 
fads of medicine. Two significant discoveries, 
made after Harvey, served, however, to establish 
the theory of the circulation of the blood on a 
firm basis and to make it a definite medical doc- 
trine. The most important of these was Mal- 
pighi's discovery that the capillaries — that is, the 
minute vessels at the end of the arterial tree on 
the surface of the body and in various organs — 
served as the direct connexion between the veins 
and the arteries. This demonstrated just how 
the blood passed from the arterial to the venous 
system. Scarcely less important, however, for 
the confirmation of Harvey's teaching was Sten- 
sen's demonstration of the muscular character of 
the tissue of the heart. 

Some of his observations upon muscles are ex- 
tremely interesting, and, though he made many 
mistakes in explaining their function, he added 
not a little to the anatomical and physiological 
knowledge of the time in their regard. He seems 
to have been one of the first to recognize the fact 
that in the higher animals the heart may continue 
to beat for a considerable time after the animal 
is apparently dead ; and, indeed, that by irritation 
of the removed heart, voluntary contractions may 
be brought about which will continue spontan- 
eously for some moments. 


With regard to the objections made by some, 
that such studies as these upon muscles could 
scarcely be expected to produce any direct result 
for the treatment of disease, or in the ordinary 
practice of medicine, Stensen said in reply that it 
is only on the basis of the anatomical, physio- 
logical, and pathological observation that prog- 
ress in medicine is to be looked for. In spite, 
then, of the discouragement of the many, who 
look always for immediate practical results, 
Stensen continued his investigation, and even 
proposed to make an extended study of the 
mechanism of the muscular action. 

In the meantime, however, there had gradually 
been coming into his life another element which 
was to prove more absorbing than even his zeal 
for scientific discovery. It is this which consti- 
tutes the essential index of the man's character 
and has been sadly misunderstood by many of 
his biographers. 

Sir Michael Foster, of Cambridge, England, 
in his " Lectures on the History of Physiology," 
originally delivered as the Lane Lectures at 
Cooper Medical College, San Francisco, said:— 

While thus engaged, still working at physiology, Sten- 
sen turned his versatile mind to other problems, as 
well as to those of comparative anatomy, and especially 
to those of the infant, indeed hardly as yet born, 
science of geology. His work " De solido intra soli- 
dum " is thought by geologists to be a brilliant effort 
toward the beginning of their science. 

In 1672 he returned for a while to his native city of 

bishop stensen: anatomist 149 

Copenhagen, but within two years he was back again 
at Florence; and then there came to him, while as 
yet a young man of some thirty-six summers, a sudden 
and profound change in his life. 

In his early days he had heard much, too much 
perhaps, of the doctrines of Luther. Probably he 
had been repelled by the austere devotion which ruled 
the paternal roof. And, as his answer to Bossuet 
shows, his university life and studies, his intercourse 
with the active intellects of many lands, and his pas- 
sion for inquiry into natural knowledge, had freed 
him from passive obedience to dogma. He doubtless, 
as did many others of his time, looked upon himself 
as one of the enlightened, as one raised above the 
barren theological questions which were moving the 
minds of lesser men. 

Yet it was out of this sceptical state of mind, 
that life in Italy and intimate contact with eccle- 
siastics and religious, so often said to be likely 
not to have any such effect, brought this acute 
scientific mind into the Catholic Church. Nor 
did he become merely a formal adherent, but an 
ardent believer, and then an enthusiastic prose- 
lytizer. One American writer of a history of 
medicine, in his utter failure to comprehend or 
sympathize with the change that came over Sten- 
sen, speaks of him as having become at the end 
of his life a mere " peripatetic converter of here- 
tics. " This phase of Stensen's life has, however, 
as ample significance as any that preceded it. 

Steno's expectations of the professorship of 
anatomy at Copenhagen were disappointed, but 
the appointment went to Jacobson, whose work 
indeed is scarcely less distinguished than that of 


his unsuccessful rival. The next few years Sten- 
sen passed in Paris, where he was assiduous in 
making dissections, and where he attracted much 
attention ; and then, somewhat later, in Italy ; in 
1665 an< ^ x 666 he was in Rome. Thence he went 
to Florence, in order to perfect himself in Italian. 
The next few years he spent in this city, having 
received the appointment of body physician to 
the Grand Duke, as well as an appointment of 
visiting physician, as we would call it now, to 
the Hospital of Santa Maria Nuova. 

It was while at Florence that the whole cur- 
rent of Stensen's life was changed by his conver- 
sion to Catholicity. His position as physician to 
the Hospital of Santa Maria Nuova brought him 
frequently into the apothecary shop attached to 
the hospital. As a result he came to know very 
well the religious in charge of the department, 
Sister Maria Flavia, the daughter of a well- 
known Tuscan family. At this time she had 
been for some thirty-five years a nun. Before 
long she learned that the distinguished young 
physician, at this time scarcely thirty years of 
age, who was such a pleasant gentleman in all 
his ways, was a Lutheran. She began, as she 
told afterwards, first by prayer, and then by 
friendly suggestions, to attempt to win him to the 
Catholic Church. Stensen, who seems already 
to have been well-disposed toward the Church, 
and who had always been known for a wonder- 
ful purity of heart and simplicity of character, 
listened very willingly to the naive words of the 

bishop stensen: anatomist 151 

old religious, who might very well have been his 

Many years later, by the command of her con- 
fessor, the good Sister related the detailed story 
of his conversion. She began very simply by 
telling him one day that if he did not accept the 
true Catholic faith, he would surely go to hell. 
He listened to this without any impatience, and 
she said it a number of other times, half jokingly 
perhaps, but much more than half in earnest. 
As he listened so kindly, she said to him one day 
that he must pray every day to God to let him 
know the truth. This he promised to do and, as 
she found out from his servant (what is it these 
nuns do not find out?) he did pray every eve- 
ning. One day, while he was in the apothecary 
shop, the Angelus bell rang, and she asked him 
to say the Angelus. He was perfectly willing to 
say the first part of the Hail Mary, but he did 
not want to say the second part, as he did not 
believe in the invocation of the Blessed Virgin 
and the saints. Then she asked him to visit the 
Church of the Blessed Virgin, the Santissima 
Nunziata, which he did. After this she sug- 
gested to him that he should abstain from meat 
on Fridays and Saturdays, which he promised to 
do, and which the good nun found out once more 
from his servant, he actually did do. And then 
the religious thought it was time to suggest that 
he should consult a clergyman, and his conver- 
sion was not long delayed. 

Young Stensen seems to have been the object 


of solicitude on the part of a number of the 
good, elderly women with whom he was brought 
in contact. He discussed with Signora Arnolfini 
the great difficulty he had in believeing the mys- 
tery of the Eucharist. Another good woman, the 
Signora Lavinia Felice, seeing how interested he 
was in things Catholic, succeeded in bringing him 
to the notice of a prominent Jesuit in Florence. 
As his friend, Sister Maria Flavia, had recom- 
mended the same Father to him, he followed the 
advice all the more readily, and it was not long 
before his last doubts were solved. 

It was after his conversion that Stensen re- 
ceived his invitation to become the professor of 
anatomy at the University of Copenhagen. 
Much as he had become attached to Florence, the 
thought of returning to his native city was sweet ; 
and then besides he hoped that he might be able 
to influence his countrymen in their views toward 
the Catholic Church. It was not long, however, 
before the bigotry of his compatriots made life 
so unpleasant for him in Copenhagen that he re- 
signed his position and returned to Italy. Vari- 
ous official posts in Florence were open for him, 
but now he had resolved to devote himself to the 
service of the Church, and so he became a priest. 
His contemporary, the Cardinal Archbishop of 
Florence, said with regard to him : "Already as 
a member of a Protestant sect he had lived a life 
of innocence and had practised all the moral vir- 
tues. After his conversion he had marked out 
for himself so severe a method of life and had 

bishop stensen: anatomist 153 

remained so true to it that in a very short time 
he reached a high degree of perfection." The 
Archbishop does not hesitate to say that he had 
become a man of constant union with God and 
entirely dead to himself. There was very little 
hesitation, then, in accepting him as a candidate 
for the priesthood, and as his knowledge of the- 
ology was very thorough, most of the delay in 
raising him to that dignity came from his own 
humility and his desire to prepare himself prop- 
erly for the privilege. He made the exercises of 
St. Ignatius as part of his preparation, and after 
his ordination it was a source of remark with 
how much devotion he said his first and all suc- 
ceeding Masses. It was not long before the 
piety of Stensen's life attracted great attention. 
At this time he was in frequent communication 
with such men as Spinoza and Leibnitz, the dis- 
tinguished philosophers. It is curious to think 
of the ardent mystic, the pantheistic philosopher, 
and the speculative scientist, so different in char- 
acter, having many interests in common. 

It was during these years in Italy that Stensen 
did what must be considered, undoubtedly, his 
most important work, even more important, if 
possible, than his anatomical discoveries. This 
was his foundation of the science of geology. As 
has been well said in a prominent text-book of 
geology, his book on this subject sets him in that 
group of men who as prophets of science often 
run far ahead of their times to point out the path 
which later centuries will follow in the road of 


knowledge. It is rather surprising to find that 
the seventeenth century must enjoy the privilege 
of being considered the cradle of geological 
knowledge. There is no doubt, however, that 
the great principles of the science were laid down 
in Stensen's little book, which he intended only 
to be an introduction to a more extensive work, 
but the latter was unfortunately never completed, 
nor, indeed, so far as we are able to decide now, 
ever seriously begun. 

One of the basic principles of the science of 
geology Stensen taught as follows : " If a given 
body of definite form, produced according to the 
laws of nature, be carefully examined, it will 
show in itself the place and manner of its origin." 
This principle he showed would apply so com- 
prehensively that the existence of many things, 
hitherto apparently inexplicable, became rather 
easy of solution. It must not be forgotten that 
before this time two explanations for the exist- 
ence of peculiar bodies, or of ordinary bodies, in 
peculiar places, had been offered. According to 
one school of thought, the fossils found deep in 
the earth, or sometimes in the midst of rocks, 
had been created there. It was as if the crea- 
tive force had run beyond the ordinary bounds 
of nature and had produced certain things, ordi- 
narily associated with life, even in the midst of 
dead matter. The other explanation suggested 
was that the flood had in its work of destruction 
upon earth caused many anomalous displacements 
of living things, and had buried some of the ani- 

bishop stensen: anatomist 155 

mals under such circumstances that later they 
were found even beneath rocks, or deep down in 
the earth, far beyond where the animals could be 
supposed to have penetrated by any ordinary 
means during life. 

Stensen had observed very faithfully the vari- 
ous strata that are to be found wherever special 
appearances of the earth's surface were exposed, 
or wherever deep excavations were made. His 
explanation of how these various strata are 
formed will serve to show, perhaps better than 
anything else, how far advanced he was in his 
realization of ideas that are supposed to belong 
only to modern geology. He said : " The pow- 
dery layers of the earth's surface must necessar- 
ily at some time have been held in suspension in 
water, from which they were precipitated by their 
own weight.. The movement of the fluid scat- 
tered the precipitate here and there and gave to 
it a level surface." 

" Bodies of considerable circumference," Sten- 
sen continues, " which are found in the various 
layers of the earth, followed the laws of gravity 
as regards their position and their relations to 
one another. The powdery material of the 
earth's strata took on so completely the form of 
the bodies which it surrounded that even the 
smallest apertures became filled up and the pow- 
dery layer fitted accurately to the surface of the 
object and even took something of its polish." 

With regard to the composition of the various 
strata of the earth, the father of geology con- 


sidered that if in a layer of rock all the portions 
are of the same kind there is no reason to deny 
that such a layer came into existence at the time 
of creation, when the whole surface of the earth 
was covered with fluid. If, however, in any one 
stratum portions of another stratum are found, 
or if the remains of plants or animals occur, there 
is no doubt that such a stratum had not its origin 
at the time of creation, but came into existence 

If there is to be found in a stratum traces of 
sea salt, or the remains of sea animals, or por- 
tions of vessels, or such like objects, which are 
only to be encountered at the bottom of the sea, 
then it must be considered that this portion of 
the earth's surface once was below the sea level, 
though it may happen that this occurred only by 
the accident of a flood of some kind. The great 
distance from the sea, or other body of water, at 
the present time, may be due to the sinking of 
the water level in the neighborhood, or by the 
rising up of a mountain from some internal ter- 
restrial cause in the interval of time. He con- 
tinues : — 

If one finds in any layer remains of branches of 
trees, or herbs, then it is only right to conclude that 
these objects were brought together because of flood 
or of some such condition in the place where they 
are now found. If in a layer coal and ashes and 
burnt clay or other scorched bodies are found, then 
it seems sure that some place in the neighborhood of 
a watercourse a fire took place, and this is all the 
more sure when the whole layer consists of ashes and 

bishop stensen: anatomist 157 

coal. Whenever in the same place the material of 
which all the layers is composed is the same, there 
seems to be no doubt that the fluid to which the 
stratum owes its origin did not at different times ob- 
tain different material for its building purposes. 

In respect to the mountains and their forma- 
tion, Stensen said very definitely: — 

All the mountains which we see now have not ex- 
isted from the beginning of things. Mountains do not, 
however, grow as do plants. The stones of which 
mountains are composed have only a certain analogy 
with the bones of animals, but have no similarity in 
structure or in origin, nor have they the same func- 
tion and purpose. Mountain ranges, or chains of 
mountains as some prefer to call them, do not always 
run in certain directions, though this has sometimes 
been claimed. Such claims correspond neither to rea- 
son nor to observation. Mountains may be very 
much disturbed in the course of years. Mountain 
peaks rise and fall somewhat. Chasms open and shut 
here and there in them, and though there are those 
who pretend that it is only the credulous who will 
accept the stories of such happenings, there is no 
doubt that they have been established on trustworthy 

In the course of his observations in Italy, 
Stensen had seen many mussel shells, which had 
been gathered from various layers of the earth's 
surface. With regard to the shells themselves, 
he said that there could be no doubt that they 
had come as the excretion of the mantle of the 
mussel, and that the differences that could be 
noted in them were in accordance with the vary- 
ing forms of these animals. He pointed out, 
however, that some of the mussel shells found in 


strata of rock were really mussel shells in every 
respect as regards the material of which they 
were composed as well as their interior structure 
and their external form, so that there could be 
no possible question of their origin. On the other 
hand, a certain number of the so-called mussel 
shells were not composed of the ordinary mate- 
rials of which such shells are usually made up ; 
but had indeed only the external form of genuine 
shells. Stensen considered, however, that even 
these must be regarded as originating in real 
mussel shells, the original substance having been 
later on replaced by other material. He ex- 
plained this replacement process in very much 
the same way that we now suggest the explana- 
tion of various processes of petrification. There 
is no doubt that in this he went far beyond his 
contemporaries, and pointed out very clearly 
what was to be the teaching of generations long 
after his own. 

The same principles he applied to mussel shells, 
Stensen considered must have their application 
also to all other portions of animal bodies, teeth, 
bones, whole skeletons, and even more perishable 
animal materials that might be found buried in 
the earth's strata. His treatment of the question 
of the remains of plants was quite as satisfactory 
as that of the animals. He distinguished be- 
tween the impressions of plants, the petrification 
of plants, the carbonization of plants, and then 
dwelt somewhat on the tendency of certain min- 
erals to form dendrites, that is, branching pro- 

bishop stensen: anatomist 159 

, cesses which look not unlike plants. He pointed 
out how easy it is to be deceived by these ap- 
pearances, and stated very clearly the distinction 
between real plants and such simulated ones. 

It will be scarcely necessary for us to apolo- 
gize for having given so much space to Stensen's 
work on geology. Many distinguished scientists, 
however, have insisted that no greater advance 
at the birth of a science was ever made than that 
which Stensen accomplished in his geological 
work. Hoffman says that after carefully study- 
ing the work, he has come to the conclusion that 
of the successors of Stensen, no student of the 
mountains down to Werner's day had succeeded 
in comprehending so many fruitful points of view 
in geology. None of his great successors in 
geology has succeeded in introducing so many 
new ideas into the science as the first great ob- 
server. For several centuries most of his suc- 
cessors in geology remained far behind him in 
creative genius, and so there is little progress 
worth while noting in the knowledge of the 
method of earth formation, until almost the be- 
ginning of the nineteenth century, though his 
little book was written in 1668 and 1669. 

Leibnitz regretted very much that Stensen did 
not complete his work on geology as he origin- 
ally intended. Had he succeedeed in gathering 
together all of his original observations, illus- 
trated by the material he had collected, his work 
would have had much greater effect. As it was, 
the golden truth which he had expressed in such 


few words, without being able always to state 
just how he had come to his conclusions, was 
only of avail to science in a limited way. Men 
had to repeat his observations long years after- 
wards in order to realize the truth of what he 
had laid down. Leibnitz considered that it took 
more than a century for geological science to 
reach the point at which it had been left by 
Steno's work, and which he had reached at a 
single bound. There is scarcely a single modern 
geologist interested at all in the history of the 
science who has not paid a worthy tribute to 
Steno's great basic discoveries in the science. It 
was not a matter for surprise, then, that the In- 
ternational Congress of Geologists which met at 
Bologna in 1881 asembled at his tomb in Flor- 
ence in order to do him honor, after the regular 
sessions of the Congress had closed. They 
erected to his memory a tablet with the follow- 
ing scription : " Nicolae Stenonis imaginem 
vides hospes quam aere collato docti amplius 
mille ex universe terrarum orbe insculpendam 
curarunt in memoriam ejus diei IV cal. Octobr. 
an. MDCCCLXXXI quo geologi post conven- 
tum Bononiae habitum praeside Joanne Capellinio 
equite hue peregrinati sunt atque adstantibus 
legatis flor Municipii et R. Instituti Altiorum 
doctrinarum cineres viri inter geologos et ana- 
tomicos praestantissimi in hujus templi hypogaeo 
laurea corona honoris gratique animi ergo hones- 
taverunt." * 

1 You behold here, traveller, the bust of Nicholas 
Steno as it was set up by more than a thousand scientists 


Stensen's work brought him in contact with 
some of the distinguished men of the seventeenth 
century, all of whom learned to appreciate his 
breadth of intelligence and acuity of judgment. 
We have already mentioned his epistolary rela- 
tion with Spinoza, and have said something about 
the controversy with Leibnitz, into' which, in spite 
of his disinclination to controversy generally, he 
was drawn by the circumstances of the time and 
the solicitation of friends. Another great thinker 
of the century with whom he was brought into 
intimate relationship was Des Cartes, the distin- 
guished philosopher. In fact, Des Cartes's sys- 
tem of thought influenced Stensen not a little, 
and he felt, when describing the function of 
muscles in the human body, and especially when 
he demonstrated that the heart was a muscle, that 
the mechanical notions he was thus introducing 
into anatomy were likely to prove confirmatory 
of Des Cartes's philosophic speculations. Almost 
more than any other, Stensen was the father of 
many ideas that have since become common, with 
regard to the physics of the human body and its 
qualities as a machine. 

With his breadth of view, from familiarity 

from all over the world, as a memorial to him, on the 
fourth of the Kalends of October, 1881. The geolo- 
gists of the world, after their meeting in Bologna, 
under the presidency of Count John Capellini, made 
a pilgrimage to his tomb, and in the presence of the 
chosen representatives of the municipality, and of the 
learned professors of the University, honored the mor- 
tal ashes of this man, illustrious among geologists and 


with the progress of science generally in his time, 
Steno's discussions of the reason for the lack of 
exact knowledge and for the prevalence of error, 
in spite of enthusiastic investigation, are worth 
while appreciating. He considered that the rea- 
son why so many portions of natural science are 
still in doubt is that in the investigation of nat- 
tural objects no careful distinction is made be- 
tween what is known to a certainty and what is 
known only with a certain amount of assurance. 
He discusses the question of deductive and in- 
ductive science, and considers that even those who 
depend on experience will not infrequently be 
found in error, because their conclusions are 
wider than their premises, and because it only 
too often happens that they admit principles as 
true for which they have no sure evidence. 
Stensen considered it important, therefore, not to 
hurry on in the explanation of things, but, so far 
as possible, to cling to old-time principles that 
had been universally accepted, since nearly al- 
ways these would be found to contain fruitful 
germs of truth. 

He was universally acknowledged as one of 
the greatest original thinkers of his time, and his 
conversion to the Church did much to dissipate 
religious prejudices among those of German 
nationality. His influence over distinguished 
visitors who came to Florence, and who were 
very glad to have the opportunity of making his 
acquaintance, was such that not a few Northern 
visitors became, like himself, converts to the 

bishop stensen: anatomist 163 

It was in the midst of this that the request of 
the Duke of Hanover came that he should con- 
sent to become the bishop of his capital city. It 
was only after Stensen had been put under holy 
obedience that he would consent to accept the 
proffered dignity. His first thought was to dis- 
tribute all his goods among the poor, and betake 
himself even without shoes on his feet, on a 
pedestrian journey to Rome. First, however, he 
made a pilgrimage to Loretto, where he arrived 
so overcome by the fatigue of the journey that 
the clergyman who took care of him while there, 
insisted on his accepting a pair of shoes from 
him, though he could not prevail upon him to 
travel in any other way than on foot. 

His first action, after his consecration as 
bishop, was to write a letter, sending his epis- 
copal benediction to Sister Maria Flavia, to whom 
he felt he owed the great privilege of his life. 
His lasting sense of satisfaction and consolation 
in his change of religion may be appreciated from 
what is, perhaps, the most interesting personal 
document that we have from Stensen's own hand, 
in which, on the eighteenth anniversary of his 
conversion, he writes to a friend to describe his 
feelings. " To-morrow," he says, " I shall finish, 
God willing, the eighteenth year of my happy life 
as a member of the Church. I wish to acknowl- 
edge once more my thankfulness for the part 
which you took under God in my conversion. 
As I hope to have the grace to be grateful to Him 
forever, so I sigh for the opportunity to express 


my thank fulnes to you and your family. I can 
feel that my own ingratitude toward God, my 
slowness in His service, make me unworthy of 
His graces ; but I hope that you who have helped 
me to enter his service will not cease to pray, so 
that I may obtain pardon for the past and grace 
for the future, in order in some measure to repay 
all the favors that have been conferred on me." 

The distinguishing characteristic of his life as 
a bishop was his insistence on poverty as the prin- 
cipal element of his existence. He refused to 
enter his diocese in state in the carriage which 
the Duke offered to provide for him, but pro- 
ceeded there on foot. No question of supposed 
dignity could make him employ a number of ser- 
vants, and his only retainers were converts made 
by himself, who helped in the household and 
whom he treated quite as equals. He became 
engaged in one controversy on religious matters, 
but said that he did not consider that converts 
had ever been made by controversies. He com- 
pared it, indeed, to the gladiatorial contests in 
which the contestants had their heads completely 
enveloped in armor, so as to prevent any possible 
penetration of the weapons of an opponent. He 
insisted especially that in religious controversies 
the contending parties do not realize the signifi- 
cance given to words by each other, and that 
therefore no good can result. 

After a time, Stensen did not find his work in 
Hamburg very satisfactory, because it was typi- 
cally a missionary country, and the Jesuit mis- 

bishop stensen: anatomist 165 

sionaries who had been introduced were accom- 
plishing all that could be hoped for. Accord- 
ingly, when the Duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin 
became a convert to the Catholic Church, and 
asked that Stensen should be sent as a bishop 
into his dukedom, the request was complied with. 
Here, in the hardest kind of labor as a mission- 
ary, and in the midst of poverty that was truly 
apostolic, Stensen worked out the remaining 
years of his life. At his death he was looked 
upon as almost a saint. Notwithstanding his 
close relationship with two reigning princes, he 
did not leave enough personal effects to defray 
the expenses of his funeral. Besides his bishop's 
ring, and the very simple episcopal cross he wore, 
he had nothing of any value except some relics 
of St. Francis Xavier, St. Ignatius Loyola, and 
St. Philip Neri, which he had prized above all 
other treasures. 

His missionary labors had not been marked by 
any very striking success in the number of con- 
verts made. In this his life would seem to have 
been a bitter personal disappointment. He never 
looked upon it as such, however, but continued 
to be eminently cheerful and friendly until the 
end. As a matter of fact, the influence of his 
career was to be felt much more two centuries 
after his death than during his lifetime. At the 
present moment, his life is well known in north- 
ern Germany, thanks to the biographic sketch 
written by Father Plenkers for the Stimmen 
aus Maria Laach, which has been very widely 


circulated since its appearance in 1884. Some- 
thing of the reaction among scientific minds in 
Germany toward a healthier orthodoxy of feel- 
ing, with regard to great religious questions, is 
undoubtedly due to the spread of the knowledge 
of the career of the great anatomist and geologist 
who gave up his scientific work for the sake of 
the spread of the higher truth. 

After his death the Medici family asked for 
and obtained the privilege of having his body 
buried in San Lorenzo at Florence, with the 
members of the princely Medici house. More 
and more do visitors realize that the tablet over 
his remains chronicles the death of a man who 
was undoubtedly one of the world's great scien- 
tists, and one of the most original thinkers of his 
time, and that time a period greatly fertile in the 
historv of science. 



THEY continue this day as they 
were created, perfect in number 
and measure and weight, and from 
the ineffaceable characters impressed 
on them we may learn that those 
aspirations after accuracy in measure- 
ment, truth in statement, and justice 
in action, which we reckon among 
our noblest attributes as men, are 
ours because they are essential con- 
stituents of the image of Him who in 
the beginning created not only heaven 
and earth, but the materials of 
which heaven and earth consist. — 
Clerk Maxwell On the Molecule, 
"Nature," Vol. VIII. 1873. 




MODERN learning is gradually losing some- 
thing of the self-complacency that char- 
acterized it in so constantly harboring the 
thought that the most important discoveries in 
physical science came in the nineteenth century. 
A more general attention to critical history has 
led to the realization that many of the primal 
discoveries whose importance made the develop- 
ment of modern science possible, came in earlier 
centuries, though their full significance was not 
then fully appreciated. The foundations of most 
of our modern sciences were, indeed, laid in the 
eighteenth century, but some of them came much 
earlier. It is genius alone that is able to break 
away from established traditions of knowledge, 
and, stepping across the boundary into the un- 
known, blaze a path along which it will be easy 
for subsequent workers to follow. Only in re- 
cent years has the due meed of appreciation for 
these great pioneers become part of the precious 
traditions of scientific knowledge. 

We have seen that clergymen were great ori- 
ginal investigators in science in the older times 
and we shall find, though it may be a source of 

1 Pronounced a-ue (Century Dictionary), nearly 
represented by ah-we. 



astonishment to most people that even our mod- 
ern science has had some supreme original work- 
ers, during the last two centuries, in the ranks 
of the Catholic clergy. 

The eighteenth century was not behind the 
seventeenth in original contributions made to 
science by clergymen. About the middle of the 
century, a Premonstratensian monk, Procopius 
Dirwisch by name, of the little town of Prenditz 
in Bohemia, demonstrated the identity of elec- 
trical phenomena with lightning, thus anticipat- 
ing the work of our own Franklin. Dirwisch 
dared to set up a lightning-conductor, by which 
during thunderstorms he obtained sparks from 
clouds, and also learned to appreciate the danger 
involved in this experiment. When, in 1751, he 
printed his article on this subject, he pointed out 
this danger. His warning, however, was not 
always heeded, and at least one subsequent ex- 
perimenter was struck dead by a charge of elec- 

Just at the junction of the last two centuries, 
Father Piazzi enriched the realm of science by 
one of the most important of modern discoveries 
in astronomy. On the night of 31 December, 
1800 — 1 January, 1801, he discovered the little 
planet Ceres. This was the first of the asteroids, 
so many more of which were to be revealed to 
astronomical study during the next half-century. 
Father Piazzi's discovery was made, not by 
accident, but as the result of detailed astronom- 
ical work of the most painstaking character. Pie 


had set out to make a map of the heavens, and to 
determine and locate the absolute position of all 
the visible stars. He had succeeded in cata- 
loguing over 7,000 stars when his attention was 
called to one, hitherto supposed to be fixed, which 
he found had moved, during the interval between 
two observations, from its original position. He 
made still other observations, and thus deter- 
mined the fact that it was a planetoid and not a 
fixed star with which he had to deal. Needless 
to say, his discovery proved a strong incentive to 
patient astronomical study of the same kind; 
and it is to these, rather than to great single dis- 
coveries, that we owe whatever progress in 
astronomy was made during the nineteenth cen- 

Contemporary with both of these last-men- 
tioned men, and worthy to share in the scientific 
honors that were theirs, was the Abbe Hauy, 
who toward the end of the second half of the 
eighteenth century founded the science of crys- 
tallography; made a series of observations the 
value of which can never be disputed, originated 
theories some of which have served down to our 
own time as the basis of crystal knowledge, and 
attracted the attention of many students to the 
new science because of his charming personal 
character and his winning teaching methods. 
His life is a typical example of the value of work 
done in patient obscurity, founded on observa- 
tion, and not on brilliant theories ; and what he 
accomplished stamps him as one of the great 


scientific geniuses of all time — one of the men 
who widened the bounds of knowledge in direc- 
tions hitherto considered inaccessible to the ordi- 
nary methods of human investigation. 

It is a commonplace of the lecturer on popu- 
lar science at the present day, that the impulse to 
the development of our modern scientific dis- 
coveries which became so marked toward the end 
of the eighteenth century, was due in a note- 
worthy degree to the work of the French Ency- 
clopedists. Their bringing together of all the 
details of knowledge in a form in which it could 
be readily consulted, and in which previous prog- 
ress and the special lines of advance could be 
realized, might be expected to prove a fruitful 
source of suggestive investigation. As a matter 
of fact, however, a detailed knowledge of the 
past in science often seems to be rather a hind- 
rance than a help to original genius, always 
prone to take its own way if not too much dis- 
turbed by the conventional knowledge already 
gained. Most of the great discoverers in science 
were comparatively young men when they began 
their careers as original investigators ; and it was 
apparently their freedom from the incubus of too 
copious information that left their minds un- 
trammelled to follow their own bent in seeking 
for causes where others had failed to find any 
hints of possible developments. 

This was certainly the case with regard to 
many of those distinguished founders who lived 
in centuries prior to the nineteenth. Most of 

abbe hauy: father of crystallography 173 

them were men under thirty years of age, and 
not one of them had been noted, before he began 
his own researches, for the extent of his knowl- 
edge in the particular department of science in 
which his work was to prove so fruitful. Their 
lives illustrate the essential difference there is 
between theory and observation in science. The 
theorizer reaches conclusions that are popular as 
a rule in his own generation, and receives the 
honor due to a progressive scientist ; the observer 
usually has his announcements of what he has 
actually seen scouted by those who are engaged 
in the same studies, and it is only succeeding 
generations who appreciate how much he really 

This was especially exemplified in the case of 
the Abbe Hauy, whose work in crystallography 
was to mean so much. What he learned was not 
from books, but from contact with the actual ob- 
jects of his department of science; and it is be- 
cause the example of a life like this can scarcely 
fail to serve a good purpose for the twentieth- 
century student, in impressing the lesson of the 
value of observation as opposed to theory, that 
its details are retold. 

Rene Just Hauy was born 28 February, 1743, 
in the little village of Saint- Just, in the Depart- 
ment of Oise, somewhat north of the center of 
France. Like many another great genius, he 
was the son of very poor parents. His father 
was a struggling linen-weaver, who was able to 
support himself only with difficulty. At first 


there seemed to be no other prospect for his eld- 
est son than to succeed to his father's business. 
Certainly there seemed to be no possibility that 
he should be able to gain his livelihood by any 
other means than by the work of his hands. 

Fortunately, however, there was in Haiiy's- 
native town a Premonstratensian monastery, and 
it was not long before some of the monks began 
to notice that the son of the weaver was of an 
especially pious disposition and attended church 
ceremonies very faithfully. The chance was 
given to him to attend the monastery school, and 
he succeeded admirably in his studies. As a 
consequence, the prior had his attention directed 
to the boy, and found in him the signs of a supe- 
rior intelligence. He summoned the lad's par- 
ents and discussed with them the possibility of 
obtaining for their son an education. There 
were many difficulties in the way, but the prin- 
cipal one was their absolute financial inability to 
help him. If the son was to obtain an education, 
it must be somehow through his own efforts, and 
without any expense to his parents. 

The prior thereupon obtained for young Haiiy 
a position as a member of a church choir in 
Paris ; and, later, some of those to whom he had 
recommended the boy secured for him a place in 
the college of Navarre. Here, during the course 
of a few years, he made such an impression upon 
the members of the faculty that they asked him 
to become one of the teaching corps of the insti- 
tution. It was a very modest position that he 


held, and his salary scarcely more than paid for 
his board and clothes and a few books. Haiiy 
was well satisfied, however, because his position 
provided him with opportunities for pursuing 
the studies for which he cared most. At this 
time he was interested mainly in literature, and 
succeeded in learning several languages, which 
were to be of considerable use to him later on in 
his scientific career. 

After some years spent in the college of 
Navarre he was ordained priest, and not long 
afterward became a member of the faculty of the 
college of Cardinal Lemoine. Here his position 
was somewhat better, and he was brought in con- 
tact with many of the prominent scholars of 
Paris. He seems, however, to have been quite 
contented in his rather narrow circle of interests, 
and was not specially anxious to advance him- 
self. It is rather curious to realize that a man 
who was later to spend all his time in the pur- 
suit of the physical sciences, knew practically 
nothing at all about them, and certainly had no 
special interest in any particular branch of 
science, until he reached the age of almost thirty 

Even then his first introduction to serious 
science did not come because of any special in- 
terest that had been aroused in his own mind, 
but entirely because of his friendship for a dis- 
tinguished old fellow-professor, whose walks he 
used to share, and who was deeply interested in 
botany. This was the Abbe Lhomond, a very 


well-known scholar, to whom we owe a number 
of classic text-books arranged especially for 
young folk. 

The Abbe's recreation consisted in botanizing 
expeditions; and Haiiy, who had chosen the 
kindly old priest as his spiritual director, was his 
most frequent companion. Occasionally, when 
M. Lhomond was ailing, and unable to take his 
usual walks, Haiiy spent the time with him. He 
rather regretted the fact that he did not know 
enough about botany to be able to make collec- 
tions of certain plants to bring to the professor 
at such times, in order that the latter might not 
entirely miss his favorite recreation. Accord- 
ingly, one summer when he was on his vacation 
at his country home, he asked one of the Pre- 
monstratensian monks, who was very much in- 
terested in botany, to teach him the principles of 
the science, so as to enable him to recognize vari- 
ous plants. Of course his request was granted. 
He expected to have a pleasant surprise for Abbe 
Lhomond on his return, and to draw even closer 
in his friendly relations with him, because of 
their mutual interest in what the old Abbe called 
his scientia amabilis (lovely science). His little 
plan worked to perfection, and there was won 
for the study of physical science a new recruit, 
who was to do as much as probably any one of 
his generation to extend scientific knowledge in 
one department, though that department was 
rather distant from botany. 

Haiiy's interest in botany, however, was to 

abbe hauy: father of crystallography 177 

prove only temporary. It brought him in con- 
tact with other departments of natural history, 
and it was not long before he found that his 
favorite study was that of minerals, and especially 
of the various forms of crystals. So absorbed 
did he become in this subject that nothing 
pleased him better than the opportunity to spend 
long days in the investigation of the comparative 
size and shape of the crystals in the museum at 
Paris. A friend has said of him that, whether 
they were the most precious stones and gems or 
the most worthless specimens of ordinary min- 
erals, it was always only their crystalline shape 
that interested Hauy. Diamonds he studied, but 
only in order to determine their angles ; and ap- 
parently they had no more attraction for him 
than any other well-defined crystal — much less, 
indeed, than some of the more complex crystal- 
line varieties, which attracted his interest be- 
cause of the difficulty of the problems they pre- 

Like many another advance in science, Haiiy's 
first great original step in crystallography was 
the result of what would be called a lucky acci- 
dent. These- accidents, however, be it noted, 
happen only to geniuses who are capable of tak- 
ing advantage of them. How many a man had 
seen an apple fall from a tree before this little 
circumstance gave Newton the hint from which 
grew, eventually, the laws of gravity! Many a 
man, doubtless, had seen little boys tapping on 
logs of wood, to hear how well sound was car- 


ried through a solid body, without getting from 
this any hint, such as Laennec derived from it, 
for the invention of the stethoscope. So, too, 
many a person before Hauy's time had seen a 
crystal fall and break, leaving a smooth surface, 
without deriving any hint for the explanation of 
the origin of crystals. 

According to the familiar story, Hauy was 
one day looking over a collection of very fine 
crystals in the house of Citizen Du Croisset, 
Treasurer of France. He was examining an 
especially fine specimen of calcspar, when it fell 
from his hands and was broken. Of course the 
visitor was much disturbed by this accident. His 
friend, however, in order to show him that he 
was not at all put out at the breaking of the 
crystal, insisted on Hauy's taking it with him for 
purposes of study, as they had both been very 
much interested in the perfectly smooth plane of 
the fracture. As Hauy himself says, this broken 
portion had a peculiarly brilliant lustre, " pol- 
ished, as it were by nature," as beautifully as the 
outer portions of the crystal; thus demonstrat- 
ing that in building up of so large a crystal there 
must have been certain steps of progress, at any 
of which, were the formation arrested, smooth 
surfaces would be found. 

On taking the crystal home, Hauy proceeded 
further to break up the smaller fragment; and 
he soon found that he could remove slice after 
slice of it, until there was no trace of the orig- 
inal prism, but in place of it a rhomboid, per- 

abbe hauy: father of crystallography 179 

fectly similar to Iceland spar, and lying in the 
middle of what was the original prism. This 
fact seemed to him very important. From it he 
began the development of a theory of crystalliza- 
tion, using this observation as the key. Before 
this time it had been hard for students of min- 
eralogy to understand how it was that substances 
of the same composition might yet have what 
seemed to be different crystalline forms. Calc- 
spar, for instance, might be found crystallized in 
forms, apparently, quite at variance with one an- 

By his studies, however, Hauy was able to de- 
termine that whenever substances of the same 
composition crystallized, even though the exter- 
nal form of the crystals seemed to be different, 
all of them were found to have the same internal 
nucleus. Whenever the mineral under observa- 
tion was chemically different from another, then 
the nucleus also had a distinctive character; and 
so there came the law that all substances of the 
same kind crystallized in the same way, notwith- 
standing apparent differences. Indeed, one of 
the first results of this law was the recognition 
of the fact that when the crystalline forms of 
two minerals were essentially different, then, no 
matter how similar they might be, there was sure 
to be some chemical difference. This enabled 
Hauy to make certain prophecies with regard to 
the composition of minerals. 

A number of different kinds of crystals had 
been classed together under the name of heavy- 


spar. Some of these could not, by the splitting 
process, be made to produce nuclei of similar 
forms, and the angles of the crystals were quite 
different. Haiiy insisted that, in spite of close 
resemblances, there was an essential distinction 
in the chemical composition of these two differ- 
ent crystalline formations ; and before long care- 
ful investigation showed that, while many of the 
specimens called heavyspar contain barium, some 
of them contain a new substance — strontium — 
which had been very little studied heretofore. 
This principle did not prove to be absolute in its 
application; but the amount of truth in it at- 
tracted attention to the subject of crystallog- 
raphy because of the help which that science 
would afford in the easy recognition of the gen- 
eral chemical composition of mineral substances. 
The most important part of Haiiy's work was 
the annunciation of the law of symmetry. He 
emphasized the fact that the forms of crystals are 
not irregular or capricious, but are very constant 
and definite, and founded on absolutely fixed and 
ascertainable laws. He even showed that, while 
from certain crystalline nuclei sundry secondary 
forms may be derived, there are other forms that 
cannot by any possibility occur. Any change of 
crystalline form noticed in his experiments led to 
a corresponding change along all similar parts of 
the crystal. The angles, the edges, the" faces, 
were modified in the same way, at the same time. 
All these elements of mensuration within the 
crystal Haiiy thought could be indicated by- 
rational coefficients. 

abbe hauy: father of crystallography 181 

Crystallography, however, did not absorb all 
Haiiy's attention. He further demonstrated his 
intellectual power by following out other import- 
ant lines of investigation that had been suggested 
by his study of crystals. It is to him more than 
to any other, for instance, that is due the first 
steps in our knowledge of pyro-(or thermo-) elec- 
tricity. Mr. George Chrystal, professor of math- 
ematics at the University of St. Andrews, in the 
article on electricity written for the ninth edi- 
tion of the Encyclopedia, says it was reserved 
for the Abbe Hauy in his Treatise on Mineralogy 
to throw a clear light on this curious branch of 
the science of electricity. 

To those who are familiar with the history of 
the development of this science it will be no sur- 
prise to find a clergyman playing a prominent 
role in its development. During the days of the 
beginning of electricity many ecclesiastics seem 
to have been particularly interested in the curious 
ways of electrical phenomena, and as a conse- 
quence they are the original discoverers of some 
of the most important early advances. Not long 
before this, Professor Gordon, a Scotch Benedic- 
tine monk who was teaching at the University 
of Erfurt, constructed the first practical electrical 
machine. Kleist, who is one of the three men to 
whom is attributed the discovery of the prin- 
ciple of storing and concentrating electricity, and 
who invented the Leyden Jar, which was named 
after the town where it was first manufactured, 
was also a member of a Religious Order. As 


we have already stated, Dirwisch, the Premon- 
stratensian monk, set up a lightning-conductor 
by which he obtained sparks from the clouds even 
before our own Franklin. 

Abbe Haiiy was only following a very com- 
mon precedent, then, when he succeeded by his 
original research in setting the science of pyro- 
electricity firmly on its feet. It is true, others 
before him had noted that substances like tour- 
maline possessed electrical properties. There is 
even some good reason for thinking that the 
lyncurium of the ancients which, according to 
certain of the Greek philosophers, especially The- 
ophrastus, who seems to have made a close study 
of the subject, attracted light bodies, was really 
our modern tourmaline. In modern times the 
Dutch found this mineral in Ceylon and, because 
it attracted ashes and other light substances to 
itself, called it aschentriker — that is, attractor of 
ashes. Others had still further experimented 
with this curious substance and its interesting 
electrical phenomena. It remained for Abbe 
Haiiy, however, to demonstrate the scientific 
properties of tourmaline and the relations which 
its electrical phenomena bore toward the crystal- 
line structure of the mineral. He showed that 
the electricity of tourmaline decreases rapidly 
from the summits or poles toward the middle of 
the crystal. As a matter of fact, at the middle 
of the crystal its electrical power becomes im- 

He showed also that each particle of a crystal 


that exhibits pyro-electricity is itself a source of 
the same sort of electricity and exhibits polarity. 
His experimental observations served to prove 
also that the pyro-electric state has an important 
connexion with the want of symmetry in the 
crystals of the substances that exhibit this curi- 
ous property. In tourmaline, for instance, he 
found the vitreous charge always at the summit 
of the crystal which had six faces, and the resin- 
ous electricity at the summit of the crystal with 
three faces. 

His experiments soon showed him, too, that 
there were a number of other substances, besides 
tourmaline, which possessed this same electrical 
property when subjected to heat in the crystalline 
stage. Among these were the Siberian and 
Brazilian topaz, borate of magnesia, mesotype, 
sphene, and calamine. In all of these other pyro- 
electrical crystals, Haiiy detected a corresponding 
deviation from the rules of symmetry in their 
secondary crystals to that which occurs in tour- 
maline. In a word, after he had concluded his 
experiments and observations there was very little 
left for others to add to this branch of science, 
although such distinguished men as Sir David 
Brewster in England were among his successors 
in the study of the peculiar phenomena of pyro- 

It may naturally enough be thought that, born 
in the country, of poor parents, and compelled to 
work for his living, Haiiy would at least have the 
advantage of rugged health to help him in his 


career. He had been a delicate child, however; 
and his physical condition never improved to 
such an extent as to inure him to hardships of 
any kind. One of his biographers has gone so 
far as to say that his life was one long malady. 
The only distraction from his almost constant 
suffering was his studies. Yet this man lived to 
be nearly eighty years of age, and accomplished 
an amount of work that might well be envied 
even by the hardiest. 

In the midst of his magnificent success as a 
scientist, Haiiy was faithful to all his obligations 
as a priest. His name was known throughout 
Europe, and many of the scientific societies had 
considered that they were honoring themselves 
by conferring titles, or degrees, upon him; but 
he continued to be the humble, simple student 
that he had always been. 

At the beginning of the Revolution, Abbe Haiiy 
was among the priests who refused the oath 
which the Republican government insisted on 
their taking, and which so many of them consid- 
ered derogatory to their duty as churchmen. 
Those who refused were thrown into prison, 
Haiiy among them. He did not seem to mind 
his incarceration much, but he was not a little 
perturbed by the fact that the officers who made 
the arrest insisted on taking his precious papers, 
and that his crystals were all tossed aside and 
many of them broken. For some time he was 
kept in confinement with a number of other mem- 
bers of the faculty of the University, mainly 


clergymen, in the Seminary of St. Firmin, which 
had been turned into a temporary jail. 

Hatiy did not allow his studies to be entirely 
interrupted by his imprisonment. He succeeded 
in obtaining permission to have his cabinets of 
crystals brought to his cell, and he continued his 
investigation of them. It was not long before 
powerful friends, and especially his scientific col- 
league, Gregory St. Hilaire, interested them- 
selves in his case, and succeeded in obtaining his 
liberation. When the order for his release came, 
however, Hauy was engaged on a very interest- 
ing problem in crystallography, and he refused 
to interrupt his work and leave the prison. It 
was only after considerable persuasion that he 
consented to go the next morning. It may be 
added that only two weeks later many from this 
same prison were sent to the guillotine. 

It is rather remarkable that the Revolutionary 
government, after his release, did not disturb him 
in any way. He was so much occupied with his 
scientific pursuits that he seems to have been con- 
sidered absolutely incapable of antagonizing the 
government ; and, as he had no enemies, he was 
not denounced to the Convention. This was for- 
tunate, because it enabled him to pursue his 
studies in peace. There was many another mem- 
ber of the faculty of the University who had not 
the same good fortune. Lavoisier was thrown 
into prison, and, in spite of all the influence that 
could be brought to bear, the great discoverer of 
oxygen met his death by the guillotine. At least 


two others of the professors in the physical de- 
partment, Borda and De Lambre, were dis- 
missed from their posts. Haiiy, though himself 
a priest who had refused to take the oath, and 
though he continued to exercise his religious 
functions, did not hesitate to formulate petitions 
for his imprisoned scientific friends ; yet, because 
of his well-known gentleness of character, this 
did not result in arousing the enmity of any mem- 
bers of the government, or attracting such odious 
attention as might have made his religious and 
scientific work extremely difficult or even pre- 
vented it entirely. 

Notwithstanding the stormy times of the 
French Revolution and the stirring events going 
on all round him in Paris, Haiiy continued to 
study his crystals in order to complete his obser- 
vations ; and then he embodied his investigations 
and his theories in his famous "Treatise on Crys- 
tallography." This attracted attention not only 
on account of the evident novelty of the subject, 
but more especially because of the very thorough 
method with which Haiiy had accomplished his 
work. His style, says the historian of crystal- 
lography, was " perspicuous and elegant. The 
volume itself was noteworthy for its clear ar- 
rangement and full illustration by figures." In 
spite of its deficiencies, then — deficiencies which 
must exist in any ground-breaking work — this 
monograph has had an enduring influence. 
Some of the most serious flaws in his theory were 
soon brought to light because of the very stimulus 
afforded by his investigations. 


As to the real value of his treatise, perhaps no 
better estimate can be formed than that given by 
Cuvier in his collection of historical eulogies 
(Vol. Ill, p. 155) : " In possession of a large 
collection, to which there flowed from all sides 
the most varied minerals, arranged with the 
assistance of young, enthusiastic, and progressive 
students, it was not long before there was given 
back to Haiiy the time which he had apparently 
wasted over other things. In a few years he 
raised up a wondrous monument, which brought 
as much glory to France as it did somewhat later 
to himself. After centuries of neglect, his coun- 
try at one bound found itself in the first rank in 
this department of natural science. In Haiiy's 
book are united in the highest degree two quali- 
ties which are seldom associated. One of these 
is that it was founded on an original discovery 
which had sprung entirely from the genius of its 
author; and the other is that this discovery is 
pursued and developed with almost unheard-of 
persistence down even to the least important min- 
eral variety. Everything in the work is great, 
both as regards conception and detail, It is as 
complete as the theory it announces." 

It was not surprising, then, that, after the death 
of Professor Dolomieu, Haiiy should be raised to 
the chair of mineralogy and made director of 
that department in the Paris Museum of Natural 
History. Here he was to have new triumphs. 
We have already said that his book was noted 
for the elegance of its style and its perspicuity. 


As the result of this absolute clearness of ideas, 
and completeness and simplicity of expression, 
Hauy attracted to him a large number -of pupils. 
Moreover, all those interested in the science, 
when they came in contact with him, were so 
charmed by his grace and simplicity of manner 
that they were very glad to attend his lectures 
and to be considered as his personal friends. 
Among his listeners were often such men as La 
Place, Berthollet, Fourcroy, Lagrange and La- 

It was not long before honors of all kinds, de- 
grees from universities and memberships in scien- 
tific societies all over Europe, began to be heaped 
upon Hauy. They did not, however, cause any 
change in the manners or mode of life of the 
simple professor of old times. Every day he 
continued to take his little walks through the 
city, and was very glad to have opportunity to 
be of assistance to others. He showed strangers 
the way to points of interest for which they in- 
quired, whenever it was necessary, obtained en- 
trance cards for them to the collection ; and not 
a few of those who were thus enabled to take 
advantage of his kindness failed to realize who 
the distinguished man was to whom they owed 
their opportunities. His old-fashioned clothing 
still continued to be quite good enough for him, 
and his modest demeanor and simple speech did 
not betray in any way the distinguished scientist 
he had become. 

Some idea of the consideration in which the 


Abbe Haiiy was held by his contemporaries may 
be gathered from the fact that several of the 
reigning monarchs of Europe, as well as the heirs 
apparent to many thrones, came at some time or 
other to visit him, to see his collection, and to 
hear the kindly old man talk on his hobby. 
There was only one other scientist in the nine- 
teenth century — and that was Pasteur, toward 
the end of it — who attracted as much attention 
from royalty. Among Haiiy' s visitors were the 
King of Prussia, the Emperor of Austria, the 
Archduke John, as well as the Emperor of Russia 
and his two brothers, Nicholas and Michael, the 
first of whom succeeded his elder brother, Alex- 
ander, to the throne, and half a century later 
was ruling Russia during the Crimean War. 
The Prince Royal of Denmark spent a portion of 
each year for several years with Haiiy, being one 
of his intimates, who was admitted to his room 
while he was confined to his bed, and who was 
permitted to share his personal investigations 
and scientific studies. 

His most striking characteristic was his suav- 
ity toward all. The humblest of his students 
was as sure to receive a kindly reception from 
him, and to have his difficulties solved with as 
much patience as the most distinguished profes- 
sor in this department. It was said that he had 
students of all classes. The attendants at the 
normal school were invited to visit him at his 
house, and he permitted them to learn all his 
secrets. When they came to him for a whole 


day, he insisted on taking part in their games, 
and allowed them to go home only after they had 
taken supper with him. All of them looked upon 
him as a personal friend, and some of them were 
more confidential with him than with their near- 
est relatives. Many a young man in Paris dur- 
ing the troublous times of the Revolutionary 
period found in the good Abbe Hauy not only 
a kind friend, but a wise director and another 

It is said that one day, when taking his usual 
walk, he came upon two former soldiers who 
were just preparing to fight a duel and were on 
their way to the dueling ground. He succeeded 
in getting them to tell him the cause of their 
quarrel, and after a time tempted them to come 
with him into what I fear we should call at the 
present day a saloon. Here, over a glass of 
wine, he finally persuaded them to make peace 
and seal it effectually. It is hard to reconcile 
this absolute simplicity of character and kindness 
of heart with what is sometimes assumed to be 
the typical, distant, abstracted, self-centered ways 
of the great scientist. 

Few men have had so many proofs of the lofty 
appreciation of great contemporaries. Many in- 
cidents serve to show how much Napoleon 
thought of the distinguished scholar who had 
created a new department of science and attracted 
the attention of the world to his splendid work 
at Paris. Not long after he became emperor, 
Napoleon named him Honorary Canon of the 


Cathedral of Notre Dame ; and when he founded 
the Legion of Honor, he made the Abbe one of 
the original members. Shortly after these dig- 
nities had been conferred upon him, it happened 
that the Abbe fell ill ; and Napoleon, having sent 
his own physician to him, went personally to call 
on him in his humble quarters, saying to the 
physician : " Remember that you must cure Abbe 
Hauy, and restore him to us as one of the glories 
of our reign." After Napoleon's return from 
Elba, he told the Abbe that the latter's "Treatise 
on Crystallography " was one of the books that 
he had specially selected to take with him to 
Elba, to while away the leisure that he thought 
he would have for many years. Abbe Haiiy's 
independence of spirit, and his unselfish devotion 
to his native country, may be best appreciated 
from the tradition that after the return from 
Elba, when there was a popular vote for the con- 
firmation of Napoleon's second usurpation, the 
old scientist voted, No. 

In spite of his constant labor at his investiga- 
tions, his uniformly regular life enabled him to 
maintain his health, and he lived to the ripe age 
of over seventy-nine. Toward the end of his 
career, he did not obtain the recognition that his 
labors deserved. After the Restoration, he was 
not in favor with the new authorities in France, 
and he accordingly lost his position as professor 
at the University. The absolute simplicity of 
life that he had always maintained now stood 
him in good stead; and, notwithstanding the 


smallness of his income, he did not have to make 
any change in his ordinary routine. Unfortu- 
nately, an accidental fall in his room at the be- 
ginning of his eightieth year confined him to his 
bed ; and then his health began to fail very seri- 
ously. He died on the 3 June, 1822. 

He had shown during his illness the same gen- 
tleness and humility, and even enthusiasm for 
study whenever it was possible, that had always 
characterized him. While he was confined to his 
bed he divided his time between prayer, attention 
to the new edition of his works which was about 
to appear, and his interest for the future of those 
students who had helped him in his investiga- 
tions. Cuvier says of him that " he was as 
faithful to his religious duties as he was in the 
pursuit of his studies. The profoundest specu- 
lations with regard to weighty matters of science 
had not kept him from the least important duty 
which ecclesiastical regulations might require of 
him." There is, perhaps, no life in all the his- 
tory of science which shows so clearly how abso- 
lutely untrue is the declaration so often made, 
that there is essential opposition between the in- 
tellectual disposition of the inquiring scientist 
and those other mental qualities which are neces- 
sary to enable the Christian to bow humbly be- 
fore the mysteries of religion, acknowledge all 
that is beyond understanding in what has been 
revealed, and observe faithfully all the duties that 
flow from such belief. 



THERE is grandeur in this view 
of life, with its several powers 
having been originally breathed by 
the Creator into a few forms or into 
one; and that, while this planet has 
gone circling on according to the 
fixed law of gravity from so simple a 
beginning, endless forms, most beau- 
tiful and most wonderful, have been 
and are being evolved. — Closing sen- 
tence of Darwin's Origin of Species. 




SCIENTIFIC progress does not run in cycles 
of centuries, and as a rule it bears no re- 
lationship to the conventional arrangement of 
years. As has been well said — for science a new 
century begins every second. There are inter- 
esting coincidences, however, of epoch-making 
discoveries in science corresponding with the be- 
ginning of definite eras in time that are at least 
impressive from a mnemonic standpoint, if from 
no other. 

The very eve of the nineteenth century saw the 
first definite formulation of the theory of evolu- 
tion. Lamarck, the distinguished French biolo- 
gist, stated a theory of development in nature 
which, although it attracted very little attention 

1 The portrait of Abbot Mendel which precedes this 
sketch was kindly furnished by the Vicar of the 
Augustinian Monastery of Briinn. It represents him 
holding a fuchsia, his favorite flower, and was taken 
in 1867, just as he was completing the researches 
which were a generation later to make his name so 
famous. The portrait has for this reason a very special 
interest as a human document. We may add that the 
sketch of Abbot Mendel which appears here was read 
t)y the Very Rev. Klemens Janetschek, the Vicar of the 
Monastery, who suggested one slight change in it, so 
that it may be said to have had the revision of one 
who knew him and his environment very well. 



for many years after its publication, has come in 
our day to be recognized as the most suggestive 
advance in biology in modern times. 

As we begin the twentieth century, the most 
interesting question in biology is undoubtedly 
that of heredity. Just at the dawn of the cen- 
tury three distinguished scientists, working in 
different countries, rediscovered a law with re- 
gard to heredity which promises to be even more 
important for the science of biology in the twen- 
tieth century than was Lamarck's work for the 
nineteenth century. This law, which, it is 
thought, will do more to simplify the problems 
of heredity than all the observations and theories 
of nineteenth-century workers, and which has 
already done much more to point out the methods 
by which observation, and the lines along which 
experimentation shall be best directed so as to 
replace elaborate but untrustworthy scientific the- 
orizing by definite knowledge, was discovered by 
a member of a small religious community in the 
little-known town of Briinn, in Austria, some 
thirty-five years before the beginning of the pres- 
ent century. 

Considering how generally, in English-speak- 
ing countries at least, it is supposed that the 
training of a clergyman and particularly that of 
a religious unfits him for any such initiative in 
science, Father Mendel's discovery comes with all 
the more emphatic surprise. There is no doubt, 
however, in the minds of many of the most prom- 
inent present-day workers in biology that his dis- 


coveries are of a ground-breaking character that 
will furnish substantial foundation for a new de- 
velopment of scientific knowledge with regard to 

Lest it should be thought that perhaps there is 
a tendency to make Father Mendel's discovery 
appear more important here than it really is, be- 
cause of his station in life, it seems desirable to 
quote some recent authoritative expressions of 
opinion with regard to the value of his observa- 
tions and the importance of the law he enun- 
ciated, as well as the principle which he consid- 
ered to be the explanation of that law. 

In the February number of Harper's 
Monthly for 1903, Professor Thomas Hunt 
Morgan, Professor of Biology at Bryn Mawr, 
and one of the best known of our American biol- 
ogists, whose recent work on " Regeneration " 
has attracted favorable notice all over the world, 
calls attention to the revolutionary character of 
Mendel's discovery. He considers that recent 
demonstrations of the mathematical truth of 
Mendel's Law absolutely confirm Mendel's orig- 
inal observations, and the movement thus in- 
itiated, in Professor Morgan's eyes, gives the 
final coup de grace to the theory of natural selec- 
tion. " If," he says, " we reject Darwin's theory 
of natural selection as an explanation of evolu- 
tion, we have at least a new and promising out- 
look in another direction and are in a position to 
answer the oft-heard but unscientific query of 
those who must cling to some dogma : if you re- 
ject Darwin, what better have you to offer?" 


Professor Edmund B. Wilson, the Director of 
the Zoological Laboratory of Columbia Univer- 
sity, called attention in Science (19 December, 
1902) to the fact that studies in cytology, 
that is to say, observations on the formation, de- 
velopment, and maturation of cells, confirm Men- 
del's principles of inheritance and thus furnish 
another proof of the truth of these principles. 

Two students working in Professor Wilson's 
laboratory have obtained definite evidence in 
favor of the cytological explanation of Mendel's 
principles, and have thus made an important step 
in the solution of one of the important funda- 
mental mysteries of cell development in the very 
early life of organisms. 

In a paper read before the American Academy 
of Arts and Sciences last year, Professor W. E. 
Castle, of Harvard University, said with regard 
to Mendel's Law of Heredity: — 

What will doubtless rank as one of the greatest dis- 
coveries in the study of biology, and in the study of 
heredity, perhaps the greatest, was made by Gregor 
Mendel, an Austrian monk, in the garden of his clois- 
ter, some forty years ago. The discovery was an- 
nounced in the proceedings of a fairly well-known 
scientific society, but seems to have attracted little 
attention, and to have been soon forgotten. The Dar- 
winian theory then occupied the centre of the scientific 
stage, and Mendel's brilliant discovery was all but 
unnoticed for a third of a century. Meanwhile, the 
discussion aroused by Weissman's germ plasm theory, 
in particular the idea of the non-inheritance of acquired 
characters, put the scientific public into a more re- 
ceptive frame of mind. Mendel's law was rediscovered 


independently by three different botanists, engaged in 
the study of plant hybrids — de Vries, Correns, and 
Tschermak, in the year 1900. It remained, however, 
for a zoologist, Bateson, two years later, to point out 
the full importance and the wide applicability of the 
law. Since then the Mendelian discoveries have at- 
tracted the attention of biologists generally. 1 

Professor Bateson, whose book on Mendel's 
" Principles of Heredity " is the best popular 
exposition in English of Mendel's work, says 
that an exact determination of the laws of hered- 
ity will probably produce more change in man's 
outlook upon the world and in his power over 
nature than any other advance in natural knowl- 
edge that can be clearly foreseen. No one has 
better opportunities of pursuing such work than 
horticulturists and stockbreeders. They are daily 
witnesses of the phenomena of heredity. Their 
success also depends largely on a knowledge of 
its laws, and obviously every increase in that 
knowledge is of direct and special importance to 

After thus insisting on the theoretic and prac- 
tical importance of the subject, Professor Bate- 
son says : — 

As regards the Mendelian principles which it is 
the chief aim of this introduction to present clearly 
before the reader, it may be said that by the applica- 

1 This paper was originally published in part in the 
Proceedings of the American Academy of Arts and 
Sciences, Vol. xxxviii, No. 18, January, 1903. It may 
be found complete in Science for 25 September, 1903. 


tion of those principles we are enabled to reach and 
deal in a comprehensive manner with phenomena of a 
fundamental nature, lying at the very root of all con- 
ceptions not merely of the physiology of reproduction 
and heredity, but even of the essential nature of living 
organisms ; and I think that I use no extravagant words 
when, in introducing Mendel's work to the notice of 
the Royal Horticultural Society's Journal, I ventured 
to declare that his experiments are worthy to rank 
with those which laid the foundation of the atomic 
laws of chemistry. 

Professor L. H. Bailey, who is the Director of 
the Horticultural Department at Cornell Univer- 
sity and the editor of the authoritative Ency- 
clopedia of Horticulture, was one of the first 
of recent scientists to call attention to Mendel's 
work. It was, we believe, because of a reference 
to Mendel's papers by Bailey that Professor de 
Vries was put on the track of Mendel's discov- 
eries and found that the Austrian monk had com- 
pletely anticipated the work at which he was then 
engaged. In a recent issue of The Independ- 
ent, of New York, Professor Bailey said: — 

The teaching of Mendel strikes at the root of two 
or three difficult and vital problems. It presents a new 
conception of the proximate mechanism of heredity. 
The hypothesis of heredity that it suggests will focus 
our attention along new lines, and will, I believe, 
arouse as much discussion as Weissmann's hypothesis, 
and it is probable that it will have a wider influence. 
Whether it expresses the actual means of heredity or 
not, it is yet much too early to say. But the hypothesis 
(which Father Mendel evolved in order to explain 
the reasons for his law as he saw them) is even a 


greater contribution to science than the so-called Men- 
del's Law as to the numerical results of hybridization. 
In the general discussion of evolution Mendel's work 
will be of the greatest value because it introduces 
a new point of view, challenges old ideas and opinions, 
gives us a new theory for discussion, emphasizes the 
great importance of actual experiments for the solu- 
tion of many questions of evolution, and then forces 
the necessity for giving greater attention to the real 
characters and attributes of plants and animals than 
to the vague groups that we are in the habit of call- 
ing species. 

It is very evident that a man of whose work 
so many authorities are agreed that it is the be- 
ginning of a new era in biology, and especially 
in that most interesting of all questions, heredity, 
must be worthy of close acquaintance. Hence 
the present sketch of his career and personality, 
as far as they are ascertainable, for his modesty, 
and the failure of the world to recognize his 
worth in his lifetime, have unfortunately deprived 
us of many details that would have been precious. 

Gregor Johann Mendel was born 27 July, 
1822, at Heinzendorf, nor far from Odrau, in 
Austrian Silesia. He was the son of a well-to- 
do peasant farmer, who gave him every oppor- 
tunity of getting a good education when he was 
young. He was educated at Olmutz, in Moravia, 
and after graduating from the college there, at 
the age of twenty-one, he entered as a novice 
the Augustinian Order, beginning his novitiate 
in 1843 m the Augustinian monastery Konigen- 
kloster, in Altbninn. He was very successful in 


his theological studies, and in 1846 he was or- 
dained priest. He seems to have made a striking 
success as a teacher, especially of natural history 
and physics, in the higher Realschule in Brunn. 
He attracted the attention of his superiors, who 
were persuaded to give him additional oppor- 
tunities for the study of the sciences, particularly 
of biological science, for which he had a distinct 
liking and special talents. 

Accordingly, in 1851 he went to Vienna for 
the purpose of doing post-graduate work in the 
natural sciences at the university there. During 
the two years he spent at this institution he 
attracted attention by his serious application to 
study, but apparently without having given any 
special evidence of the talent for original obser- 
vation that was in him. In 1853 ne returned to 
the monastery in Altbriinn, and at the beginning 
of the school year became a teacher at the Real- 
schule in Brunn. He remained in Brunn for the 
rest of his life, dying at the comparatively early 
age of sixty- two, in 1884. During the last six- 
teen years of his life he held the position of 
abbot of the monastery, the duties of which pre- 
vented him from applying himself as he prob- 
ably would have desired, to the further investi- 
gation of scientific questions. 

The experiments on which his great discoveries 
were founded were carried out in the garden of 
the monastery during the sixteen years from 
1853 to 1868. How serious was his scientific de- 
votion may be gathered from the fact that in 


establishing the law which now bears his name, 
and which was founded on observations on peas, 
some 10,000 plants were carefully examined, their 
various peculiarities noted, their ancestry care- 
fully traced, the seeds kept in definite order and 
entirely separate, so as to be used for the study 
of certain qualities in their descendants, and the 
whole scheme of experimentation planned with 
such detail that for the first time in the history 
of studies in heredity, no extraneous and inex- 
plicable data were allowed to enter the problem. 
Besides his work on plants, Mendel occupied 
himself with other observations of a scientific 
character on two subjects which were at that 
time attracting considerable attention. These 
were the state and condition of the ground-water 
— a subject which. was thought to stand at the 
basis of hygienic principles at the time and which 
had occupied the attention of the distinguished 
Professor Pettenkof er and the Munich School of 
Hygiene for many years — and weather observa- 
tions. At that time Pettenkof er, the most widely 
known of sanitary scientists, thought that he was 
able to show that he curve of frequency of 
typhoid fever in the different seasons of the year 
depended upon the closeness with which the 
ground-water came to the surface. Authorities 
in hygiene generally do not now accept this sup- 
posed law, for other factors have been found 
which are so much more important that, if the 
ground-water has any influence, it can be 
neglected. Mendel's observations in the matter 


were, however, in line with the scientific ideas of 
the time and undoubtedly must be considered of 

The other subject in which Mendel interested 
himself was meteorology. He published in the 
journal of the Briinn Society of Naturalists a 
series of statistical observations with regard to 
the weather. Besides this he organized in con- 
nexion with the Realschule in Briinn a series of 
observation stations in different parts of the coun- 
try around ; and at the time when most scientists 
considered meteorological problems to be too 
complex for hopeful solution, Mendel seems to 
have realized that the questions involved de- 
pended rather on the collation of a sufficient 
number of observations and the deduction of defi- 
nite laws from them than on any theoretic prin- 
ciples of a supposed science of the weather. 

The man evidently had a genius for scientific 
observations. His personal character was of the 
highest. The fact that his fellow-monks selected 
him as abbot of the monastery shows the consid- 
eration in which he was held for tact and true 
religious feeling. There are many still alive in 
Briinn who remember him well and cannot say 
enough of his kindly disposition, the froliche Lie- 
benswurdigkeit (which means even more than 
our personal magnetism), that won for him re- 
spect and reverence from all. He is remembered, 
not only for his successful discoveries, and not 
alone by his friends and the fellow-members of 
the Naturalist Society, but by practically all his 


contemporaries in the town ; and it is his lovable 
personal character that seems to have most im- 
pressed itself on them. 

He was for a time the president of the Briinn 
Society of Naturalists, while also abbot of the 
monastery. This is, perhaps, a combination that 
would strike English-speaking people as rather 
curious, but seems to have been considered not 
out of the regular course of events in Austria. 

Father Mendel's introduction to his paper on 
plant hybridization, which describes the result of 
the experiments made by him in deducing the 
law which he announces, is a model of simple 
straightforwardness. It breathes the spirit of the 
loftiest science in its clear-eyed vision of the 
nature of the problem he had to solve, the fac- 
tors which make up the problem, and the experi- 
mental observations necessary to elucidate it. We 
reproduce the introductory remarks here from 
the translations made of them by the Royal Hor- 
ticultural Society of England. 1 Father Mendel 
said at the beginning of his paper as read 8 Feb- 
ruary, 1865 : — 

Experience of artificial fertilization such as is af- 
fected with ornamental plants in order to obtain new 
variations in color, has led to the experiments, the de- 

1 The original paper was published in the " Ver- 
handlungen des Naturforscher-Vereins," in Briinn, Ab- 
handlungen, iv, that is, the proceedings of the year 
1865, which were published in 1866. Copies of these 
transactions were exchanged with all the important 
scientific journals, especially those in connexion with 
important societies and universities throughout Europe, 
and the wonder is that this paper attracted so little 


tails of which I am about to discuss. The striking 
regularity with which the same hybrid forms always 
reappeared whenever fertilization took place between 
the same species, induced further experiments to be 
undertaken, the object of which was to follow up the 
developments of the hybrid in a number of successive 
generations of their progeny. 

Those who survey the work that has been done in 
this department up to the present time will arrive at 
the conviction that among all the numerous experi- 
ments made not one has been carried out to such an 
extent and in such a way as to make it possible to 
determine the number of different forms under which 
the offspring of hybrids appear, or to arrange these 
forms with certainty, according to their separate 
generations, or to ascertain definitely their statistical 

These three primary necessities for the solu- 
tion of the problem of heredity — namely, first, the 
number of different forms under which the off- 
spring of hybrids appear ; secondly, the arrange- 
ment of these forms, with definiteness and cer- 
tainty, as regards their relations in the separate 
generation; and thirdly, the statistical results of 
the hybridization of the plants in successive gen- 
erations, are the secret of the success of Mendel's 
work, as has been very well said by Bateson, in 
commenting on this paragraph in his work on 
Mendel's " Principles of Heredity." This was 
the first time that any one had ever realized ex- 
actly the nature of the problems presented in 
their naked simplicity. " To see a problem well 
is more than half to solve it," and this proved to 
be the case with Mendel's straightforward vision 
of the nature of the experiments required for ad- 
vance in our knowledge of heredity. 


While Mendel was beginning his experiments 
almost absolutely under the guidance of his own 
scientific spirit, and undertaking his series of 
observations in the monastery garden without 
any reference to other work in this line, he knew 
very well what distinguished botanists were do- 
ing in this line and was by no means presump- 
tuously following a study of the deepest of 
nature's problems without knowing what others 
had accomplished in the matter in recent years. 
In the second paragraph of his introduction he 
quotes the men whose work in this science was 
attracting attention, and says that to this object 
numerous careful observers, such a Kolreuter, 
Gartner, Herbert, Lecoq, Wichura and others, 
had devoted a part of their lives with inexhaus- 
tible perseverance. 

To quote Mendel's own words : — 

Gartner, especially in his work, "Die Bastarderzeu- 
gung im Pflanzenreiche," 1 has recorded very valuable 
observations; and quite recently Wichura published 
the results of some profound observations on the 
hybrids of the willow. That so far no generally ap- 
plicable law governing the formation and develop- 
ment of hybrids has been successfully formulated can 
hardly be wondered at by anyone who is acquainted 
with the extent of the task and can appreciate the 
difficulties with which experiments of this class have 
to contend. A final decision can only be arrived at 
when we shall have before us the results of the 
changed detailed experiments made on plants belonging 
to the most diverse orders. It requires some courage 

1 The Production of Hybrids in the Vegetable King- 


indeed to undertake a labor of such far-reaching ex- 
tent; it appears, however, to be the only right way by 
which we can finally reach the solution of a question 
the importance of which can not be overestimated in 
connexion with the history of the evolution of organic 

The paper now presented records the results of such 
a detailed experiment. This experiment was prac- 
tically confined to a small plant group, and is now after 
eight years' pursuit concluded in all essentials. Whether 
the plan upon which the separate experiments were 
conducted and carried out was the best suited to attain 
the desired end is left to the friendly decision of the 

Mendel's discoveries with regard to peas and 
the influence of heredity on them, were founded 
on very simple, but very interesting, observa- 
tions. He found that if peas of different colors 
were taken, that is to say, if, for instance, yellow- 
colored peas were crossed with green, the result- 
ing pea seeds were, in the great majority of 
cases, of yellow color. If the yellow-colored 
peas obtained from such crossing were planted 
and allowed to be fertilized only by pollen from 
plants raised from similar seeds, the succeeding 
generation, however, did not give all yellow peas, 
but a definite number of yellow and a definite 
number of green. In other words, while there 
might have been expected a permanence of the 
yellow color, there was really a reversion in a 
number of the plants apparently to the type of 
the grandparent. Mendel tried the same experi- 
ment with seeds of different shape. Certain peas 
are rounded and certain others are wrinkled. 
When these were crossed, the next generation 


consisted of wrinkled peas, but the next succeed- 
ing generation presented a definite number of 
round peas besides the wrinkled ones, and so on 
as before. He next bred peas with regard to 
other single qualities, such as the color of the 
seed coat, the inflation or constriction of the pod, 
as to the coloring of the pod, as to the distribu- 
tion of the flowers along the stem, as to the 
length of the stem, finding always, no matter 
what the quality tested, the laws of heredity he 
had formulated always held true. 

What he thus discovered he formulated some- 
what as follows : In the case of each of the 
crosses the hybrid character, that is, the quality 
of the resultant seed, resembles one of the par- 
ental forms so closely that the other escapes ob- 
servation completely or cannot be detected with 
certainty. This quality thus impressed on the 
next generation, Mendel called the dominant 
quality. As, however, the reversion of a definite 
proportion of the peas in the third generation to 
that quality of the original parent which did not 
appear in the second generation was found to 
occur, thus showing that, though it cannot be 
detected, it is present, Mendel called it the re- 
cessive quality. He did not find transitional 
forms in any of his experiments, but constantly 
observed that when plants were bred with regard 
to two special qualities, one of those qualities be- 
came dominant in the resultant hybrid, and the 
other became recessive, that is, present though 
latent and ready to produce its effects upon a 
definite proportion of the succeeding generation. 


Remembering, then, that Mendel means by hy- 
brid the result of the crossing of two distinct 
species, his significant discovery has been stated 
thus : The hybrid, whatever its own character, 
produces ripe germ cells, which bear only the 
pure character of one parent or the other. Thus, 
when one parent has the character "A," in peas, 
for example, a green color, and the other the 
character " B," in peas once more a yellow color, 
the hybrid will have in cases of simple dominance 
the character "AB" or "BA," but with the second 
quality in either case not noticeable. Whatever 
the character of the hybrid may be, that is to 
say, to revert to the example of the peas, whether 
it be green or yellow, its germ cells when mature 
will bear either the character "A" (green), or 
the character " B " (yellow), but not both. 

As Professor Castle says : " This perfectly 
simple principle is known as the law of segrega- 
tion, or the law of the purity of the germ cells. 
It bids fair to prove as fundamental to a right 
understanding of the facts of heredity as is the 
law of definite proportions in chemistry. From 
it follow many important consequences." 

To follow this acute observer's work still fur- 
ther — by letting the crossbreds fertilize them- 
selves, Mendel raised a third generation. In this 
generation were individuals which showed the 
dominant character and also individuals which 
presented the recessive character. Such an ob- 
servation had of course been made in a good 
many instances before. 


But Mendel noted — and this is the essence of 
the new discovery in his observations — that in 
this third generation the numerical proportion of 
dominants to recessives is in the average of a 
series of cases approximately constant — being, in 
fact, as three to one. With almost absolute reg- 
ularity this proportion was maintained in every 
case of crossing of pairs of characters, quite op- 
posed to one another, in his pea plants. In the 
first generation, raised from his crossbreds, or, 
as he calls them, hybrids, there were seventy-five 
per cent dominants and twenty-five per cent re- 

When these plants were again self-fertilized 
and the offspring of each plant separately sown, 
a new surprise awaited the observer. The prog- 
eny of the recessives remained pure recessive; 
and in any number of subsequent generations 
never produced the dominant type again, that is, 
never reverted to the original parent, whose qual- 
ities had failed to appear in the second genera- 
tion. When the seeds obtained by self-fertiliz- 
ing the plants with the dominant characteristics 
were sown, it was found by the test of progeny 
that the dominants were not all of like nature, 
but consisted of two classes — first, some which 
gave rise to pure dominants; and secondly, others 
which gave a mixed offspring, composed partly 
of recessives, partly of dominants. Once more, 
however, the ratio of heredity asserted itself and 
it was found that the average numerical propor- 
tions were constant — those with pure dominant 


offspring being to those with mixed offspring as 
one to two. Hence, it was seen that the seventy- 
five per cent of dominants are not really of iden- 
tical constitution, but consist of twenty-five per 
cent which are pure dominants and fifty per cent 
which are really crossbreds, though like most of 
the crossbreds raised by crossing the two orig- 
inal varieties, they exhibit the dominant char- 
acter only. 

These fifty crossbreds have mixed offspring; 
these offspring again in their numerical propor- 
tion follow the same law, namely, three domi- 
nants to one recessive. The recessives are pure 
like those of the last generation, but the domi- 
nants can, by further self-fertilization and culti- 
vation of the seeds produced, be again shown to 
be made up of pure dominant and crossbreds in 
the same proportion of one dominant to two 

The process of breaking up into the parent 
forms is thus continued in each successive gen- 
eration, the same numerical laws being followed 
so far as observation has gone. As Mendel's ob- 
servations have now been confirmed by workers 
in many parts of the world, investigating many 
different kinds of plants, it would seem that this 
law which he discovered has a basis in the nature 
of things and is to furnish the foundation for a 
new and scientific theory of heredity, while at the 
same time affording scope for the collection of 
observations of the most valuable character with 
a definite purpose and without any theoretic bias. 


The task of the practical breeder who seeks to 
establish or fix a new variety produced by cross- 
breeding in a case involving two variable char- 
acters is simply the isolation and propagation of 
that one in each sixteen of the second generation 
offspring which will be pure as regards the de- 
sired combination of characters. Mendel's dis- 
covery, by putting the breeder in possession of 
this information enables him to attack this prob- 
lem systematically with confidence in the out- 
come, whereas hitherto his work, important and 
fascinating as it is, has consisted largely of grop- 
ing for a treasure in the dark. The greater the 
number of separately variable characters involved 
in a cross, the greater will be the number of new 
combinations obtainable; the greater too will be 
the number of individuals which it will be neces- 
sary to raise in order to secure all the possible 
combinations ; and the greater again will be the 
difficulty of isolating the pure, that is, the stable 
forms in such as are similar to them in appear- 
ance, but still hybrid in one or more characters. 

The law of Mendel reduces to an exact science 
the art of breeding in the case most carefully 
studied by him, that of entire dominance. It 
gives to the breeder a new conception of "purity." 
No animal or plant is " pure," simply because it 
is descended from a long line of ancestors, pos- 
sessing a desired combination of characters ; but 
any animal or plant is pure if it produces gametes 
— that is, particles for conjugation of only one 
sort — even though its grandparents may among 


themselves have possessed opposite characters. 
The existence of purity can be established with 
certainty only by suitable breeding tests, espec- 
ially by crossing with recessives ; but it may be 
safely assumed for any animal or plant, de- 
scended from parents which were like each other 
and had been shown by breeding tests to be pure. 
This naturally leads us to what some biologists 
have considered to be the most important part of 
his work — the theory which he elaborated to ex- 
plain his results, the principle which he considers 
to be the basis of the laws he discovered. Men- 
del suggests as following logically from the 
results of his experiments and observations a cer- 
tain theory of the constitution of germinal par- 
ticles. He has put this important matter so 
clearly himself and with such little waste of 
words that it seems better to quote the transla- 
tion of the passage as given by Professor Bate- 
son, 1 than to attempt to explain it in other words* 
Mendel says : — 

The results of the previously described experiments 
induced further experiments, the results of which ap- 
pear fitted to afford some conclusions as regards the 
composition of the egg and pollen-cells of hybrids. An 
important matter for consideration is afforded in peas 
(pisum) by the circumstance that among the progeny 
of the hybrids constant forms appear, and that this 
occurs, too, in all combinations of the associated char- 
acters. So far as experience goes, we find it in every 

1 Bateson : Mendel's Principles of Heredity. Cam- 
bridge : The University Press. 1902. 


case confirmed that constant progeny can only be 
formed when the egg-cells and the fertilizing pollen 
are of like character, so that both are provided with 
the material for creating quite similar individuals, as 
is the case with the normal fertilization of pure 

We must therefore regard it as essential that exactly 
similar factors are at work also in the production of 
the constant forms in the hybrid plants. Since the 
various constant forms are produced in one plant, or 
even in one flower of a plant, the conclusion appears 
logical that in the ovaries of the hybrids there are 
formed as many sorts of egg-cells and in the anthers 
as many sorts of pollen-cells as there are possible 
constant combination forms, and that these egg and 
pollen-cells agree in their internal composition with 
those of the separate forms. 

In point of fact, it is possible to demonstrate theoreti- 
cally that this hypothesis would fully suffice to account 
for the development of the hybrids in the separate 
generations, if we might at the same time assume that 
the various kinds of egg and pollen-cells were formed 
in the hybrids on the average in equal numbers. 

Bateson says in a note on this passage that 
this last and the preceding paragraph contain the 
essence of the Mendelian principles of heredity. 
Mendel himself, after stating this hypothesis, 
gives the details of a series of experiments by 
which he was able to decide that the theoretic 
considerations suggested were founded in the 
nature of plants and their germinal cells. 

It will, of course, be interesting to realize what 
the bearing of Mendel's discoveries is on the 
question of the stability of species as well as on 
the origin of species. Professor Morgan, in his 


article on Darwinism in the " Light of Modern 
Criticism," already quoted, says the important 
fact (with regard to Mendel's Law) from the 
point of view of the theory of evolution is that 
" the new species have sprung fully armed from 
the old ones, like Minerva from the head of 
Jove." " From de Vries's results," he adds, " we 
understand better how it is that we do not see 
new forms arising, because they appear, as it 
were, fully equipped over night. Old species are 
not slowly changed into new ones, but a shaking 
up of the old organization takes place and the 
egg brings forth a new species. It is like the 
turning of the kaleidoscope, a slight shift and 
the new figure suddenly appears. It needs no 
great penetration to see that this point of view is 
entirely different from the conception of the for- 
mation of new species by accumulating individual 
variations, until they are carried so far that the 
new form may be called a new species." 

With regard to this question of the transfor- 
mation of one species into another, Mendel him- 
self, in the concluding paragraphs of his article 
on hybridization, seems to agree with the expres- 
sions of Morgan. He quotes Gartner's opinion 
with apparent approval : " Gartner, by the results 
of these transformation experiments was led to 
oppose the opinion of those naturalists who dis- 
pute the stability of plant species and believe in 
a continuous evolution of vegetation. He per- 
ceives in the complete transformation of one 
species into another an indubitable proof that 


species are fixed within limits beyond which they 
cannot change." "Although this opinion," adds 
Mendel, " cannot be unconditionally accepted, we 
find, on the other hand, in Gartner's experiments 
a noteworthy confirmation of that supposition re- 
garding the variability of cultivated plants which 
has already been expressed." This expression 
of opinion is not very definite, and Bateson, in 
what Professor Wilson of Columbia calls his 
" recent admirable little book on Mendel's prin- 
ciples," adds the following note that may prove 
of service in elucidating Mendel's meaning, as 
few men have entered so fully into the under- 
standing of Mendel's work as Bateson, who in- 
troduced him to the English-speaking scientific 
public. " The argument of this paragraph ap- 
pears to be that though the general mutability of 
natural species might be doubtful, yet among cul- 
tivated plants the transference of characters may 
be accomplished and may occur by integral steps 
[italics ours], until one species is definitely 'trans- 
formed ' into the other." 

Needless to say, this is quite different from the 
gradual transformation of species that Darwin- 
ism or Lamarckism assumes to take place. One 
species becomes another per saltum in virtue of 
some special energy infused into it, some original 
tendency of its intrinsic nature, not because of 
gradual modification by forces outside of the 
organisms, nor because of the combination of in- 
fluences they are subjected to from without and 
within, because of tendency to evolute plus en- 


vironmental forces. This throws biology back to 
the permanency of species in themselves, though 
successive generations may be of different spe- 
cies, and does away with the idea of missing 
links, since there are no gradual connecting gra- 

A very interesting phase of Mendel's discov- 
eries is concerned with the relative value of the 
e gg-cell and the pollen-cell, as regards their effect 
upon future generations. It is an old and oft- 
discussed problem as to which of these germinal 
particles is the more important in its influence 
upon the transmission of parental qualities. 
Mendel's observations would seem to decide defi- 
nitely that, in plants and, by implication, in ani- 
mals, since the germinal process is biogenetically 
similar, the value of both germinal particles is 
exactly equal. 

In a note, Mendel says : — 

In pisum (i. e. in peas), it is beyond doubt that, for 
the formation of the new embryo, a perfect union of 
the elements of both fertilizing cells must take place. 
How could we otherwise explain that, among the off- 
spring of the hybrids, both original types reappear in 
equal numbers, and with all their peculiarities? If 
the influence of the egg-cell upon the pollen-cell were 
only external, if it fulfilled the role of a nurse only, 
then the result of each artificial fertilization could be 
no other than that the developed hybrid should exactly 
resemble the pollen parent, or, at any rate, do so very 
closely. These experiments, so far, have in no wise 
been confirmed. An evident proof of the complete 
union of the contents of both cells is afforded by the 


experience gained on all sides, that it is immaterial as 
regards the form of the hybrid which of the original 
species is the seed cell, or which" the pollen parent ! 

This is the first actual demonstration of the 
equivalent value of both germinal particles as re- 
gards their influence on transmission inheritance 
in future generations. 

It is only by simplifying the problem so that 
all disturbing factors could be eliminated that 
Mendel succeeded in making this demonstration. 
Too many qualities have hitherto been considered 
with consequent confusion as to the results ob- 

It is of the genius of the man that he should 
have been able to succeed in seeing the problem 
in simple terms while it is apparently so complex, 
and thus obtain results that are as far-reaching 
as the problem they solve is basic in its character. 

Bateson, in his work Mendel's Principles of 
Heredity, says : — 

It may seem surprising that a work of such impor- 
tance should so long have failed to find recognition 
and to become current in the world of science. It is 
true that the Journal in which it appeared is scarce, 
but this circumstance has seldom long delayed general 
recognition. The cause is unquestionably to be found 
in that neglect of the experimental study of the problem 
of species which supervened on the general acceptance 
of the Darwinian doctrine. The problem of species, 
as Kolreuter, Gartner, Naudin, Wichura, and the hy- 
bridists of the middle of the nineteenth century con- 
ceived it, attracted thenceforth no workers. 


The question, it was imagined, had been answered 
and the debate ended. No one felt much interest in 
the matter. A host of other lines of work was sud- 
denly opened up, and in 1865 the more original in- 
vestigators naturally found these new methods of re- 
search more attractive than the tedious observations 
of hybridizers, whose inquiries were supposed, more- 
over, to have led to no definite results. 

In 1868 appeared the first edition of Darwin's Ani- 
mals and Plants, marking the very zenith of these 
studies with regard to hybrids and the questions in 
heredity which they illustrate, and thenceforth the de- 
cline in the experimental investigation of evolution and 
the problem of species have been studied. With the 
rediscovery and confirmation of Mendel's work by de 
Vries, Correns and Tschermak in 1900 a new era 
begins. Had Mendel's work come into the hands of 
Darwin it is not too much to say that the history 
of the development of evolutionary philosophy would 
have been very different from that which we have 

That Mendel's work, appearing as it did at a mo- 
ment when several naturalists of the first rank were 
still occupied with these problems, should have passed 
wholly unnoted, will always remain inexplicable, the 
more so as the Briinn society exchanged its publi- 
cation with most of the great academies of Europe, 
including both the 'Royal and the Linnean societies of 

The whole history of Mendel's work, its long 
period without effect upon scientific thought, its 
thoroughly simple yet satisfactory character, its 
basis in manifold observations of problems sim- 
plified to the last degree, and its present complete 
acceptance illustrate very well the chief defect of 
the last two generations of workers in biology. 


There has been entirely too much theorizing, too 
much effort at observations for the purpose of 
bolstering up preconceived ideas — preaccepted 
dogmas of science that have proved false in the 
end — and too little straightforward observation 
and simple reporting of the facts without trying 
to have them fit into any theory prematurely, that 
is until their true place was found. This will be 
the criterion by which the latter half of nine- 
teenth century biology will be judged; and be- 
cause of failure here much of our supposed prog- 
ress will have no effect on the current of biolog- 
ical progress, but will represent only an eddy in 
which there was no end of bustling movement 
manifest but no real advance. 

As stated very clearly by Professor Morgan at 
the beginning of this paper, and Professor Bate- 
son near the end, Darwin's doctrine of natural 
selection as the main factor in evolution and its 
practically universal premature acceptance by 
scientific workers in biology are undoubtedly re- 
sponsible for this. The present generation may 
well be warned, then, not to surrender their judg- 
ment to taking theories, but to wait in patience 
for the facts in the case, working, not theorizing, 
while they wait. 

Date Due 



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